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New York State's Big Middle Finger to the Republican Tax Plan

Truthout - Mon, 04/09/2018 - 08:02

Tax cut protesters watch as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio joins other Democratic officials, labor members and activists in front of Trump Tower to protest against the proposed Republican tax overhauls on November 21, 2017, in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

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Last month New York State gave a big middle finger to Donald Trump and the Republican Congress. It included measures in its budget bill that will allow people in the state to get around the new tax law's limit on the deductibility of state and local taxes. This could save the state's ability to maintain and extend its level of public services.

A provision in the Republican tax overhaul bill limits the amount of state and local taxes (SALT) that could be deducted from federal income tax to $10,000. In a relatively high-tax state like New York, many families have state and local taxes that far exceed this amount. The capping of the SALT deduction is a Republican effort at the federal level to deny states the revenue they would need to maintain and extend current levels of public services. This is why the workarounds designed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration are a big deal.

While the people who will be affected by this cap are mostly higher-income families, its impact would be felt statewide. New York has a relatively progressive income tax, with the highest income families facing an 8.2 percent income tax rate.

While it is a safe bet that people never like to pay taxes, the deduction against federal taxes made the state income tax less costly, especially for high-income people. With a top federal income tax rate of 39.6 percent, the SALT deduction effectively meant that the federal government was reimbursing 40 cents of every dollar that high-income people paid in state and local taxes. This meant that the top New York tax rate of 8.2 percent, was really a tax rate of 5 percent (60.4 percent of 8.2 percent), after factoring in the deduction on federal taxes.    

By limiting the SALT deduction, the Republican tax bill changes this arithmetic. Higher income families will now pay 100 cents on the dollar of any additional taxes imposed by state and local governments. This restriction was explicitly included in the bill to make it more difficult for states like New York to maintain a high level of social services.

Republican congressional lawmakers assumed that limiting the deduction would make high-income people more resistant to any future tax increases and may even cause them to push for tax rollbacks. In a context where progressive change is unlikely to come out of Washington in the foreseeable future, measures like extending health care coverage, affordable child care and free college are most likely to advance at the state level. New York's work around is leading the way for other states that will be penalized by the tax law.

While there are two distinct measures in the state's budget for getting around the SALT limit, the more important measure replaces a portion of the state income tax with an employer-side payroll tax. Under this plan, an employer would pay a 5 percent payroll tax to the government, similar to the employer-side payroll tax they pay now at the state level for workers' compensation and unemployment insurance and at the federal level for Social Security and Medicare.

Economists typically expect that an employer-side payroll tax will come out of wages. They don't care whether they pay wages to the worker or taxes to the government. This means that if an employer paid a 5 percent payroll tax on a worker's $200,000 salary, this amount ($10,000) would come out of the workers' paycheck. Instead of $200,000 a year, this worker would get $190,000 a year.

If you're wondering why a worker would ever want to see their pay cut by $10,000, you have to look more closely. When the worker was being paid $200,000, she had to pay $10,000 in taxes to New York State. Now she is only earning $190,000, but doesn't owe any money in taxes to New York State. This means that her pay, net of state taxes, is exactly the same.

What's more, she is better off now when it comes to federal taxes. Instead of being taxed on $200,000, she will only pay federal taxes on $190,000. Since this person would likely be in the 32 percent bracket, this tax shift would save her $3,200 on her federal taxes. And, as a neat twist, she will get these tax savings even if she doesn't itemize on her federal returns.

While it might have been desirable to make this tax switch mandatory, New York's law is voluntary for employers for political reasons. Several commentators have claimed that few employers are likely to take advantage of this switch because it is too complicated.

A factor suggesting that the switch will be widely adopted is the popularity of Flexible Savings Accounts (FSA). These accounts allow workers to put aside pre-tax dollars to cover medical bills, effectively saving the income and payroll taxes they would otherwise pay on this money.

There is a considerable amount of paperwork involved in documenting expenses for FSAs. Also, money that is not spent at the end of the year is lost. Furthermore, relatively low caps mean the potential savings are limited, typically to a few hundred dollars a year.

Nonetheless, FSAs are very popular. By comparison, the payroll tax shift requires just a one-time adjustment by the employer (like the one they just did for the new tax law). The potential gains are far larger with the employer-side payroll tax; as noted in the example here, the worker could save $3,200 a year on her federal taxes.

For this reason, it is likely that the employer-side payroll tax device will catch on quickly, even though it is not mandatory. It would be great if other liberal states adopted similar workarounds to preserve most of the SALT deduction for their residents.

If that were to be the case, we would get a situation where the only people who lose the benefit of the SALT deduction would be higher-income people living in Republican states. Now that would be a great product of the Republican tax bill.

Categories: Latest News

How China and the US Are Spawning a New Great Power Naval Rivalry

Truthout - Sun, 04/08/2018 - 21:00

Marines from the Chinese navy participate in the annual military training on January 3, 2018, in Zhanjiang, Guangdong Province of China. (Photo: Pu Haiyang / VCG via Getty Images)

Amid the intense coverage of Russian cyber-maneuvering and North Korean missile threats, another kind of great-power rivalry has been playing out quietly in the Indian and Pacific oceans. The US and Chinese navies have been repositioning warships and establishing naval bases as if they were so many pawns on a geopolitical chessboard. To some it might seem curious, even quaint, that gunboats and naval bastions, once emblematic of the Victorian age, remain even remotely relevant in our own era of cyber-threats and space warfare.

Yet if you examine, even briefly, the central role that naval power has played and still plays in the fate of empires, the deadly serious nature of this new naval competition makes more sense. Indeed, if war were to break out among the major powers today, don't discount the possibility that it might come from a naval clash over Chinese bases in the South China Sea rather than a missile strike against North Korea or a Russian cyber attack.

The Age of Empire

For the past 500 years, from the 50 fortified Portuguese ports that dotted the world in the sixteenth century to the 800 US military bases that dominate much of it today, empires have used such enclaves as Archimedean levers to move the globe. Viewed historically, naval bastions were invaluable when it came to the aspirations of any would-be hegemonic power, yet also surprisingly vulnerable to capture in times of conflict.

Throughout the twentieth century and the first years of this one, military bases in the South China Sea in particular have been flashpoints for geopolitical change. The US victory at Manila Bay in 1898, the fall of the British bastion of Singapore to the Japanese in 1942, America's withdrawal from Subic Bay in the Philippines in 1992, and China's construction of airstrips and missile launchers in the Spratly Islands since 2014 -- all have been iconic markers for both geopolitical dominion and imperial transition.

Indeed, in his 1890 study of naval history, that famed advocate of seapower Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, arguably America's only original strategic thinker, stated that "the maintenance of suitable naval stations…, when combined with decided preponderance at sea, makes a scattered and extensive empire, like that of England, secure." In marked contrast to the British Navy's 300 ships and 30 bases circling the globe, he worried that US warships with "no foreign establishments, either colonial or military... will be like land birds, unable to fly far from their own shores. To provide resting-places for them... would be one of the first duties of a government proposing to itself the development of the power of the nation at sea."

So important did Captain Mahan consider naval bases for America's defense that he argued "it should be an inviolable resolution of our national policy that no European state should henceforth acquire a coaling position within three thousand miles of San Francisco" -- a span that reached the Hawaiian Islands, which Washington would soon seize. In a series of influential dictums, he also argued that a large fleet and overseas bases were essential to both the exercise of global power and national defense.

Although Mahan was read as gospel by everyone from American President Teddy Roosevelt to German Kaiser Wilhelm II, his observations do not explain the persistent geopolitical significance of such naval bases. Especially in periods between wars, these bastions seem to allow empires to project their power in crucial ways.

Historian Paul Kennedy has suggested that Britain's "naval mastery" in the nineteenth century made it "extremely difficult for other lesser states to undertake maritime operations or trade without at least its tacit consent." But modern bases do even more. Naval bastions and the warships they serve can weave a web of dominion across an open sea, transforming an unbounded ocean into de facto territorial waters. Even in an age of cyberwarfare, they remain essential to geopolitical gambits of almost any sort, as the United States has shown repeatedly during its tumultuous century as a Pacific power.

The US as a Pacific Power

As the US began its ascent to global power by expanding its navy in the 1890s, Captain Mahan, then head of the Naval War College, argued that Washington had to build a battle fleet and capture island bastions, particularly in the Pacific, that could control the surrounding sea-lanes. Influenced in part by his doctrine, Admiral George Dewey's squadron sank the Spanish fleet and seized the key harbor of Manila Bay in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War of 1898.

In 1905, however, Japan's stunning victory over the Russian Baltic Fleet in the Tsushima Strait (between southern Japan and Korea) suddenly revealed the vulnerability of the slender string of bases the US then possessed, stretching from Panama to the Philippines. Under the pressure of the imperial Japanese navy, Washington soon abandoned its plans for a major naval presence in the Western Pacific. Within a year, President Theodore Roosevelt had removed the last Navy battleship from the region and later authorized the construction of a new Pacific bastion not in distant Manila Bay but at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, insisting that "the Philippines form our heel of Achilles." When the Versailles settlement at the end of World War I awarded Micronesia in the Western Pacific to Japan, the dispatch of any fleet from Pearl Harbor to Manila Bay became problematic in time of war and rendered the Philippines essentially indefensible.

It was partly for this reason, in mid-1941, that Secretary of War Henry Stimson decided that the B-17 bomber, aptly named the "Flying Fortress," would be the wonder weapon capable of countering the Japanese navy's control of the Western Pacific and sent 35 of these new aircraft to Manila. Stimson's strategy was, however, a flight of imperial fantasy that condemned most of those planes to destruction by Japanese fighters in the first days of World War II in the Pacific and doomed General Douglas MacArthur's army in the Philippines to a humiliating defeat at Bataan.

As bomber ranges tripled during that global conflict, however, the War Department decided in 1943 that the country's postwar defense required retaining forward bases in the Philippines. These ambitions were fully realized in 1947 when the newly independent republic signed the Military Bases Agreement granting the US a 99-year lease on 23 military installations, including the Seventh Fleet's future homeport at Subic Bay and the massive Clark Air Base near Manila.

Simultaneously, during its postwar occupation of Japan, the US acquired more than a hundred military facilities that stretched from Misawa Air Base in the north of that country to Sasebo Naval Base in the south. With its strategic location, the island of Okinawa had 32 active US installations covering about 20% of its entire area.

As the Cold War came to Asia in 1951, Washington concluded mutual defense pacts with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Australia that made the Pacific littoral the eastern anchor for its strategic dominion over Eurasia. By 1955, the early enclaves in Japan and the Philippines had been integrated into a global network of 450 overseas bases aimed largely at containing the Sino-Soviet bloc behind an Iron Curtain that bisected the vast Eurasian continent.

After surveying the rise and fall of Eurasian empires for the past 600 years, Oxford historian John Darwin concluded that Washington had achieved its "colossal Imperium... on an unprecedented scale" by becoming the first power to control the strategic axial points "at both ends of Eurasia" -- in the west through the NATO alliance and in the east via those four mutual security pacts. During the later decades of the Cold War, moreover, the US Navy completed its encirclement of the continent, taking over the old British base at Bahrain in 1971 and later building a multibillion-dollar base at the epicenter of the Indian Ocean on the island of Diego Garcia for its air and naval patrols.

Among these many bases ringing Eurasia, those along the Pacific littoral were of particular strategic import before, during, and after the Cold War. As the geopolitical fulcrum between the defense of one continent (North America) and control of another (Asia), the Pacific littoral has remained a constant focus in Washington's century-long effort to extend and maintain its global power.

In the aftermath of the Cold War, as Washington elites reveled in their role as leaders of the world's sole superpower, former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, a master of Eurasia's unforgiving geopolitics, warned that the US could preserve its global power only as long as the eastern end of that vast Eurasian landmass did not unify itself in a way that might lead to "the expulsion of America from its offshore bases." Otherwise, he asserted with some prescience, "a potential rival to America might at some point arise."

In fact, the weakening of those "offshore bases" had already begun in 1991, the very year the Soviet Union imploded, when the Philippines refused to extend the US lease on the Seventh Fleet's bastion at Subic Bay. As Navy tugs towed Subic's floating dry docks home to Pearl Harbor, the Philippines assumed full responsibility for its own defense without actually putting any more of its funds into air or naval power. Consequently, during a raging typhoon in 1994, China was able to suddenly occupy some shoals in the nearby Spratly Islands that went by the name of Mischief Reef -- and that would turn out to be just its first step in a bid to control the South China Sea. Without the ability to launch its own air and navy patrols, in 1998 the Philippine military, in an attempt to reassert its claim to the area, grounded a rusting US-surplus ship on nearby Ayungin Shoal as a "base" for a squad of barefoot soldiers who were forced to fish for their rations.

In the meantime, the US Navy suffered its own decline with a 40% reduction in surface warships and attack submarines from 1990 to 1996. Over the next two decades, the Navy's Pacific posture weakened further as the focus of naval deployments shifted to wars in the Middle East, the service's overall size shrank by an additional 20% (to just 271 ships), and crews strained under the pressure of ever-extending deployments -- leaving the Seventh Fleet ill-prepared to meet China's unexpected challenge.

China's Naval Gambit

After years of seeming compliance with Washington's rules for good global citizenship, China's recent actions in Central Asia and the continent's surrounding seas have revealed a two-phase strategy that would, if successful, undercut the perpetuation of American global power. First, China is spending a trillion dollars to fund a vast transcontinental grid of new railroads, highways, and oil and natural gas pipelines that could harness Eurasia's vast resources as an economic engine to drive its ascent to world power.

In a parallel move, China is building a blue-water navy and creating its first overseas bases in the Arabian and South China seas. As Beijing stated in a 2015 white paper, "The traditional mentality that land outweighs the sea must be abandoned... It is necessary for China to develop a modern maritime military force structure commensurate with its national security." Though the force it contemplates will hardly compete with the US Navy's global presence, China seems determined to dominate a significant arc of waters around Asia, from the horn of Africa, across the Indian Ocean, all the way to Korea.

Beijing's bid for overseas bases began quietly in 2011 when it started investing almost $250 million in the transformation of a sleepy fishing village at Gwadar, Pakistan, on the shores of the Arabian Sea, into a modern commercial port only 370 miles from the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Four years later, President Xi Jinping committed another $46 billion to the building of a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor of roads, railways, and pipelines stretching for 2,000 miles from western China to the now-modernized port at Gwadar. It still avoided any admission that military aims might be involved so as not to alarm New Delhi or Washington. In 2016, however, Pakistan's Navy announced that it was indeed opening a naval base at Gwadar (soon strengthened with two warships donated by China) and added that Beijing was welcome to base its own ships there as well.

That same year, China began building a major military facility at Djibouti on the Horn of Africa and, in August 2017, opened its first official overseas base there, giving its navy access to the oil-rich Arabian Sea. Simultaneously, Sri Lanka, located at a midpoint in the Indian Ocean, settled a billion-dollar debt to China by ceding it a strategic port at Hambantota, creating a future potential for dual military use there, too -- in effect, the Gwadar stealth strategy revisited.

As controversial as these enclaves might be (at least from an American point of view), they paled before China's attempts to claim an entire ocean. Starting in April 2014, Beijing escalated its bid for exclusive territorial control over the South China Sea by expanding Longpo Naval Base on its own Hainan Island into a homeport for its four nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. Without any announcement, the Chinese also began dredging seven artificial atolls in the disputed Spratly Islands to create military airfields and future anchorages. In just four years, Beijing's armada of dredges had sucked up countless tons of sand from the ocean floor, slowly transforming those minimalist reefs and atolls into active military bases. Today, China's army operates a jet runway protected by HQ-9 anti-aircraft missile batteries on Woody Island, a radar base on Cuareton Reef, and has mobile missile launchers near runways ready for jet fighters at three more of these "islands."

While fighter planes and submarines are pawns in China's opening gambit in the contest for the South China Sea, Beijing hopes one day to at least check (if not checkmate) Washington with a growing armada of aircraft carriers, the modern dreadnaughts in this latter-day game of empires. After acquiring an unfinished Soviet Kuznetsov-class carrier from Ukraine in 1998, the naval dockyard at Dalian retrofitted the rusting hulk and launched it in 2012 as the Liaoning, China's first aircraft carrier. That hull was already 30 years old, an age that would normally have assured such a warship a place in some scrap metal yard. Though not combat capable, it was a platform for training China's first generation of naval aviators in landing speeding jets on heaving decks in high seas. In marked contrast to the 15 years needed to retrofit this first ship, the Dalian yards took just five years to construct, from the keel up, a much-improved second carrier capable of full combat operations.

The narrow hulls and ski-jump prows that limit these first two carriers to just 24 "Flying Shark" fighter planes won't hold for the country's third carrier, now being built from indigenous designs in Shanghai. When launched next year, it will be able to carry on-board fuel reserves that will give it a longer cruising range and a complement of 40 aircraft, as well as electromagnetic systems for faster launches. Thanks to an accelerating tempo of training, technology, and construction, by 2030 China should have enough aircraft carriers to ensure that the South China Sea will become what the Pentagon has termed a "Chinese lake."

Such carriers are the vanguard of a sustained naval expansion that, by 2017, had already given China a modern navy of 320 ships, backed by land-based missiles, jet fighters, and a global system of surveillance satellites. Its current anti-ship ballistic missiles have a range of 2,500 miles and so could strike US Navy vessels anywhere in the Western Pacific. Beijing has also made strides in mastering the volatile technology for hypersonic missiles with speeds of up to 5,000 miles per hour, making them impossible to stop. By building two new submarines every year, China has already assembled a fleet of 57, both diesel- and nuclear-powered, and is projected to reach 80 soon. Each of its four nuclear submarines carries 12 ballistic missiles that could reach anywhere in the western United States. In addition, Beijing has launched dozens of amphibious ships and coastal corvettes, giving it naval dominance in its own waters.

Within just five years, according to the US Office of Naval Intelligence, China "will complete its transition" from the coastal force of the 1990s to a modern navy capable of "sustained blue water operations" and "multiple missions around the world," including full-spectrum warfare. In other words, China is forging a future capacity to control its "home" waters from the East China Sea to the South China Sea. In the process, it will become the first power in 70 years to challenge the US Navy's dominion over the Pacific basin.

The American Response

After taking office in 2009, President Barack Obama came to the conclusion that China's rise represented a serious threat and so he developed a geopolitical strategy to counter it. First, he promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation commercial pact that would direct 40% of world trade toward the United States. Then, in March 2014, after announcing a military "pivot to Asia" in an address to the Australian parliament, he deployed a full battalion of Marines to a base at the city of Darwin on the Timor Sea. A month later, the US ambassador to the Philippines signed an enhanced defense cooperation agreement with that country allowing US forces to be stationed at five of its bases.

Combining existing installations in Japan with access to naval bases in Subic Bay, Darwin, and Singapore, Obama rebuilt America's chain of military enclaves along the Asian littoral. To make full use of these installations, the Pentagon began planning to "forward base 60% of [its] naval assets in the Pacific by 2020" and launched its first regular "freedom of navigation" patrols in the South China Sea as a challenge to the Chinese navy, even sending in full carrier strike groups.

President Trump, however, cancelled the Trans-Pacific Partnership right after his inauguration and, with the endless war on terror in the Greater Middle East grinding on, the shift of naval forces to the Pacific slowed. More broadly, Trump's unilateral, America-first foreign policy has damaged relations with the four allies that underpin its line of defense in the Pacific: Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Australia. Moreover, in his obsessive courtship of Beijing's help in the Korean crisis, the president even suspended, for five months, those naval patrols into the South China Sea.

The administration's new $700 billion defense budget will fund 46 new ships for the Navy by 2023 (for a total of 326), but the White House seems incapable, as reflected in its recent National Security Strategy, of grasping the geostrategic importance of Eurasia or devising an effective scheme for the deployment of its expanding military to check China's rise. After declaring Obama's "pivot to Asia" officially dead, the Trump administration has instead offered its own "free and open Indo-Pacific" founded on an unworkable alliance of four supposedly kindred democracies -- Australia, India, Japan, and the United States.

While Trump stumbles from one foreign policy crisis to the next, his admirals, mindful of Mahan's strategic dictums, are acutely aware of the geopolitical requisites of American imperial power and have been vocal about their determination to preserve it. Indeed, China's naval expansion, along with advances in Russia's submarine fleet, have led the Navy to a fundamental strategic shift from limited operations against regional powers like Iran to full-spectrum readiness for "a return to great power competition." After a sweeping strategic review of his forces in 2017, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson reported that China's "growing and modernized fleet" was "shrinking" the traditional American advantage in the Pacific. "The competition is on," he warned, "and pace dominates. In an exponential competition, the winner takes all. We must shake off any vestiges of comfort or complacency."

In a parallel review of the Navy's surface force, its commander, Vice Admiral Thomas Rowden, proclaimed "a new age of seapower" with a return to "great power dynamics" from "near-peer competitors." Any potential naval attack, he added, must be met with a "distributed lethality" capable of "inflicting damage of such magnitude that it compels an adversary to cease hostilities." Summoning the ghost of Captain Mahan, the admiral warned: "From Europe to Asia, history is replete with nations that rose to global power only to cede it back through lack of seapower."

Great Power Rivalry in the Twenty-First Century

As such rhetoric indicates, there is already a rising tempo of naval competition in the South China Sea. Just last month, after a protracted hiatus in freedom-of-navigation patrols, the Trump administration sent the supercarrier USS Carl Vinson, with its full complement of 5,000 sailors and 90 aircraft, steaming across the South China Sea for a symbolic visit to Vietnam, which has its own long-running dispute with China over oil rights in those waters.

Just three weeks later, satellite imagery captured an extraordinary "display of maritime might" as a flotilla of some 40 Chinese warships, including the carrier Liaoning, steamed through that same sea in a formation that stretched for miles. Combined with the maneuvers it staged in those waters with the Cambodian and Russian navies in 2016, China, like empires past, is clearly planning to use its gunboats and future naval bases to weave a web of de facto imperial control across the waters of Asia.

Naysayers who dismiss China's challenge might remind us that its navy only operates in two of the metaphoric "seven seas," a pale imitation of the US Navy's robust global posture. Yet China's rising presence in the Indian and Pacific oceans has far-reaching geostrategic implications for our world order. In a cascading series of consequences, China's future dominance over significant parts of those oceans will compromise the US position on the Pacific littoral, shatter its control over that axial end of Eurasia, and open that vast continental expanse, home to 70% of the world's population and resources, to China's dominion. Just as Brzezinski once warned, Washington's failure to control Eurasia could well mean the end of its global hegemony and the rise of a new world empire based in Beijing.

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Categories: Latest News

Chaos Reigns: John Bolton Is Now at Trump's Right Hand. What Fresh Hell Awaits Us?

Truthout - Sun, 04/08/2018 - 21:00

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis greets incoming National Security Adviser John Bolton upon his arrival for a meeting at the Pentagon, on March 29, 2018, in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

For those of us who have been closely following politics for the past couple of decades, the following words are undoubtedly ones we never expected to read: Today is John Bolton's first day as national security adviser to the president of the United States. After observing his years of extremist rhetoric and his checkered career in government, it seemed unimaginable that Bolton would ever attain such an important job. But then, it was once unimaginable that a reality TV host and shill for cheap consumer goods could become president either. Perhaps it's time to recognize that we are so far down the rabbit hole that comparing this administration to what we previously called reality isn't particularly relevant.

In an unusual move for this president, Bolton's predecessor, H.R. McMaster, was allowed to leave with some sense of dignity even though he had been subtly critical of the president over his handling of Russia in a couple of speeches in his final days. Trump apparently allowed everyone in the White House to pretend that McMaster wasn't fired, and must have approved his staff giving the departing general a big send-off. (You know they wouldn't have done this without the president's OK.)

This felt...odd...from the North Driveway. This picture only adds to that feeling, since McMaster was FIRED by their boss. Not defiance, but...

— John T. Bennett (@BennettJohnT) April 7, 2018

I'm sure most of the White House were genuinely sad to see him go, considering who is replacing him. This administration has been careening wildly from the beginning but it's about to take a sharp right turn.

The White House announced on Sunday night that another top national security aide, Michael Anton, would be leaving to spend more time with his far right intellectuals. Anton is best known for his pseudonymous essay "The Flight 93 Election," a bizarre metaphor in which the nation was 9/11's Flight 93, Hillary Clinton was the liberal globalist terrorist who was trying to take over the plane and Donald Trump was the heroic passenger Todd Beamer saying "let's roll" and charging the cockpit. (I confess I never understood why anyone thought this was so inspiring since the plane crashed, killing everyone  on board.)

According to the Hill, Anton was once a true-blue Trumper who changed in the White House and became aligned with those considered more moderate. One source was quoted saying that Anton "completely flipped. He was brought in because of [Michael] Flynn but he became the biggest cheerleader for the McMaster faction that fought against implementing the president's policies."

In any case, he's the last of the original America Firsters, and Bolton will be able to build his team in his own image. His biggest problem is going to be the same as any other White House adviser -- making coherent policy with Trump all over the map. Those who believe Trump is an isolationist probably think he and Bolton are a bad match. In fact they share the same domineering sensibilities and, with the exception of Israel, have no affinity for any of America's allies. Much as they might disagree on the wisdom of invading Iraq, they both share a deeply held conviction that "nation building" is for losers.

As Kmele Foster, former host of Fox Business' "The Independents," told Tina Nguyen of Vanity Fair, "Trump and Bolton are probably more alike from a dispositional, philosophical standpoint than most people appreciate. I don't think he's likely to turn [Trump] into a neocon, because I don't think the guy's really that much of a neocon himself. I'm being generous here, or I'm being over-broad but [Bolton] would have been happy to install a dictator [in Iraq] who would have at least been subservient to the United States — even if he was kind of an awful monster — because he's not concerned with those totalitarian impulses or human-rights violations, per se."

I would guess that dovetails nicely with Trump's own view. As long as the U.S. could extract as much of the nation's natural resources as it chooses, he'd be happy to install friendly dictators everywhere. He certainly admires many of those who exist today.

There is little doubt that Bolton would agree whole heartedly with Trump's approach to warfare, as reported by the Washington Post:

Trump's words, both in public and private, describe a view that wars should be brutal and swift, waged with overwhelming firepower and, in some cases, with little regard for civilian casualties. Victory over America's enemies for the president is often a matter of bombing "the s--- out of them," as he said on the campaign trail.

In Trump's current "unleashed" mood he is apparently taking contrarian stances to demonstrate his dominance. The Washington Post reported that the president's directive to the Pentagon to achieve "victory" against ISIS in Syria within six months and then withdraw completely came as a surprise to the brass, since they had in the past had success with presenting Trump binary choices heavily weighted to favor their own consensus. It didn't work this time and he issued the order, leaving them to scramble trying to figure out how to carry out his order. (Personally, I think he just wants to be able to say he "won" a war and then have his big victory parade.)

Unfortunately, over the weekend the world got the horrific news of yet another gas attack in Syria, presumed to be the work of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Trump issued angry tweets, even slightly chastising his pal Vladimir Putin for the very first time:

Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price...

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 8, 2018 pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 8, 2018

You could understand Assad and Putin thinking that Trump had washed his hands of the matter, and was back to his long-held belief that strongmen were needed to stabilize the region. Recall that he made it clear during the campaign that he didn't care at all about using chemical weapons. Of Iran and Iraq he said:

They fight, that's what they do. They fight … and they were equal, militarily. They go this way 10 feet, they go this way 10 feet … then Saddam Hussein throws a little gas, everyone goes crazy: "Oh, he's using gas!" They go back, forth, it's the same. And they were stabilized.

CNN reports that Bolton quietly settled in at the White House over the weekend. He is a rabid Iran hawk, known to favor staying on in Syria to counter Iranian influence. Perhaps he will persuade the president that this provocation requires him to re-evaluate his earlier decision. Maybe they're going to bomb the shit out of somebody and take the oil. Who knows? Trump is so volatile and unpredictable at this point that literally anything is possible.

But one thing is certain: Whatever Trump and Bolton decide to do or not do, humanitarian concerns or keeping the world from boiling over into violence and chaos are not going to be factors. Neither one of them cares at all about any of that.

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Categories: Latest News

"Apartheid, Rogue, Terrorist State": Glenn Greenwald on Israel's Murder of Gaza Protesters, Reporter

Truthout - Sun, 04/08/2018 - 21:00

On Saturday, hundreds of mourners gathered in Gaza for the funeral of Palestinian journalist Yaser Murtaja, who was fatally shot by the Israeli army while covering a fresh round of deadly protests along the Israel-Gaza border. Photos show the 30-year-old journalist was wearing a flak jacket clearly marked "PRESS" at the time of the shooting. He's one of at least nine Palestinians who were killed by the Israeli army during its brutal crackdown against Friday's protests. The Palestinian Health Ministry says Israeli forces have killed 31 people in total since Palestinians kicked off a 6-week-long nonviolent protest late last month, dubbed "The Great March of Return." Both the International Criminal Court and the United Nations have rebuked Israel in recent days and warned its actions on the border could violate international human rights conventions. For more, we continue our conversation with Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and one of the founding editors of The Intercept.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Glenn Greenwald on Syria: US and Israel Revving Up War Machine Won't Help Suffering Syrian Civilians

Truthout - Sun, 04/08/2018 - 21:00

We begin today's show in Syria, where Israeli F-15 bomber jets have reportedly bombed a Syrian air base used by Iranian forces. There are reports that 14 people died in the strikes, including Iranian nationals. Israel is said to have launched the raid from Lebanon's airspace. The Israeli bombing came a day after a suspected chemical weapons attack killed at least 60 people and wounded more than 1,000 in the Syrian town of Douma, the last rebel-held town in Eastern Ghouta. The Syrian opposition blamed the Assad government for carrying out the attacks, but Syria denied having any role. The chemical attack came one day after Syrian forces launched an air and ground assault on Douma. While international officials are still investigating what happened, President Trump took to Twitter to directly accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of playing a role. The UN Security Council is meeting today to discuss the crisis in Syria. Today also marks John Bolton's first day as President Trump's national security adviser. We get reaction from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, one of the founding editors of The Intercept.

Please check back later for full transcript.

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Hospitals Are Leaving Rural America. Rural Americans Are Staying Put.

Truthout - Sun, 04/08/2018 - 21:00

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Kendra Colburn spent a decade uninsured. During those years, she worked as a carpenter near her hometown in rural Vermont, earning just enough that she didn't qualify for low-income health care, but not enough to afford health insurance on her own. While uninsured, she suffered two major work injuries that landed her in the emergency room -- once, a nail shot through three of her fingers, and another time, a piece of wood kicked back on the table saw and sliced her arm. When she was unable to pay the emergency room costs, her credit took a hit for years.

Today, Colburn works on her brother's farm and is covered by Medicaid. As a manual laborer, Colburn has developed nerve damage, which flares up in her hands and wrists with overuse. "I cut back my hours to deal with it. I can't afford to not be able to use my hands," she says. "That's how I make all of my money."

As a child who grew up in a farming community, Colburn says she observed that pain is just a part of being a farmer. "It's taken for granted that your body hurts every day, that your back always hurts." That's true for workers employed in some of the most dangerous jobs: Many manual laborers with high rates of injury and repetitive stress injuries are also more likely to be uninsured. In fact, a 2015 study found that 65 percent of commercial farmers identified health insurance costs as the most serious threat to their farms.

Alana Knudson, co-director of the Walsh Center for Rural Health at NORC at the University of Chicago, prefers to discuss rural health care in terms of strengths, but she does recognize the real barriers demonstrated by statistics. "Overall, we know that people who live in rural communities are likely to have lower incomes than their urban counterparts," she says. Rural residents are also more likely to have multiple chronic conditions and lower educational attainment, and they're more likely to face barriers in accessing transportation to medical care.

But there are also less tangible barriers. Colburn says that many people she knows don't feel comfortable navigating the complicated web of professional medical interventions when experiencing health issues. And the Medicaid system can often lack efficiency. Colburn says her state's website often doesn't work, and she still hasn't figured out how to find a primary care doctor who takes her insurance. Once, a computer glitch resulted in her being removed from her insurance plan, and she was charged hundreds of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses. Even though it was an error on Medicaid's part, Colburn was still responsible for the bill. "Generally when we're talking about rural health care issues, we're talking about access, as if once you get access that actually means something. But when you get access, it still can be a nightmare," she says.

Faced with whether to seek medical attention or "make do," Colburn says many people simply don't go. She notes that farmers especially have a hard time leaving their farm obligations to take care of themselves. They also spend significant time outdoors, and it's difficult to imagine a hospital stay. Colburn says, "I have treated myself or not gone a million times." One spring, she stepped on a potato fork and punctured her foot. Instead of going to the doctor, she spoke with a community herbalist, used an herbal tincture, and soaked her foot in salt water.

"I know for a fact that I need a root canal," Colburn says, "It used to hurt and now it doesn't hurt, so I just deal with it." She pauses. "I know a lot of people who just get their teeth pulled. And the dental piece is important because what your teeth look like has [a] direct impact on what opportunities you have."

This reality is echoed by rural journalist Sarah Smarsh. "In the past year, the Affordable Care Act, or 'ObamaCare', has changed many lives for the better -- mine included," she wrote in an essay for Aeon. "But its omission of dental coverage, a result of political compromise, is a dangerous, absurd compartmentalization of health care, as though teeth are apart from and less important than the rest of the body."


The fabric of rural America is shifting, in large part due to changes in agriculture. Knudson grew up in North Dakota and says she's seen that change firsthand. "Our neighbors are farming our land and they seed over 10,000 acres. A lot of the small farms are not there anymore."

Many children of farmers choose not to take over the farm. Land is then sold or leased to larger farms. Small businesses that once depended on a critical mass of farm families as customers also go out of business. The effects of this rural migration are particularly severe on rural elderly with complex medical needs -- and no younger generation remaining in the area to care for them.

Last year, a photographer and I drove across Kansas and Iowa to report on the hidden crisis of farmer suicide. We visited Onaga, Kansas, a small town with a newly renovated hospital. Just blocks from the hospital's beautiful lobby and squeaky-clean floors were empty streets and boarded up storefronts. One doctor said the hospital had a hard time attracting medical professionals to practice there. The therapist had left months ago, she said, and they were struggling to fill the position.

An online search for "benefits for rural medical professionals" turns up a slew of sites about attracting medical talent to rural communities. Rural medical establishments are advised to advertise the lower cost of living and ability to buy acreage, less traffic, a quieter life, student loan forgiveness in certain underserved areas, "the potential to become the 'town hero,'" more time spent with patients, and increased proficiency due to physicians seeing "a broader scope of illness."

Still, rural communities are facing the closure of hospitals and clinics. In 2016, The National Rural Health Association (NRHA) announced that 673 rural hospitals were at risk to close. Of those, 210 were at "extreme risk" of closure. The NRHA warns that "Medical deserts are forming across the nation, significantly adding to the health care workforce shortage in rural communities. Seventy-seven percent of rural US counties are already considered Primary Care Health Professional Shortage Areas."

Knudson says the health care industry is undergoing a significant transformation in terms of how medical care is being reimbursed. "Our reimbursement system is moving from a volume to value," she says. "Historically hospitals have been reimbursed by the number of hospitalizations they provided -- you have 10 hospitalizations and you get reimbursed for 10 stays. Our country has really shifted as much as possible to outpatient to make health care more affordable."

That means a decrease in admissions, more outpatient procedures, and less reimbursable care for hospitals. Additionally, Knudson says many of the rural hospitals closing are in states that have not expanded Medicaid, which has led to a higher number of uninsured patients. "When people are uninsured, it's difficult to collect payment for that hospitalization."

Hospital closures can be devastating to rural communities, creating gaps in access to the detriment of residents. "Many of these hospital closures are happening in areas with the highest concentration of heart disease and diabetes, and in some of the poorest communities in the country," says Maggie Elehwany of the NRHA. "When that hospital closes, it's like putting a nail in the coffin of that community. You can't attract businesses or families with kids or keep retirees. So we're fighting not only for rural hospitals, but also for the economies of these rural communities as well."

Rural communities are known for being innovative, self-sufficient, and organizing quickly in an emergency

In June 2017, Missouri Congressman Sam Graves introduced the Save Rural Hospitals Act (H.R. 2957). The bill doesn't increase reimbursements, but it does offer stability for "the closure crisis" by eliminating cuts and Medicare Sequestration for rural hospitals. It also establishes a new Medicare payment designation, called the Community Outpatient Hospital, that would guarantee rural access to emergency care and give hospitals the choice to offer outpatient care. The bill was co-sponsored by 21 representatives (14 Republicans and 7 Democrats), but it is still waiting for a vote.


Rural residents can't afford to wait, so they are using the assets they have. Rural communities are known for being innovative, self-sufficient, and used to organizing quickly in an emergency. Families may have been rooted in one area for generations, which manifests in a deep knowing of their neighbors, as well as each other's talents and stressors. And rural communities are often filled with people who want to help one another.

One story Alana Knudson tells me goes like this: One winter, in a northern rural community, an elderly man was treated for chronic urinary tract infections. He was treated and advised by medical staff to flush his kidneys as much as possible by drinking water. But he soon returned with another infection. When a community health worker visited his home, she discovered the man lived in the back of a shed, did not have an indoor toilet, and had to haul his own potable water.

At last, the urinary tract infections made sense. Knudson says, "It was not easy for this elderly man to traverse the snow and the cold in the dark to access the outdoor restroom, so he limited his fluid intake which contributed to reoccurring UTIs."

To serve the health care needs of the nearly 60 million Americans who live in rural communities, Knudson says "it takes an entire team." Ideally, Knudson says community health workers are part of that team. As public health workers who are also trusted members of the community, community health workers are particularly equipped to provide valuable connections between health or social services and the community. Primary care providers, pharmacists, social workers, health departments, and even agriculture extensions are critical members of the rural health care team. Knudson says, "A lot of different entities come together and complement each other. We can't afford the luxury of duplication, so we really work together."

"People come together to support others," she says. "In my home community in North Dakota, we had a neighbor who had a heart attack during harvest, and all of us got together and finished the harvest for him. If you needed the help, you could count on your neighbors doing that."

This frame is important, Knudson says, as much of the media attention about rural communities has been negative. As a result, she says, "There is such dystopia about rural America. We're hearing from some rural communities that potential businesses are saying 'we're not interested in investing in rural America.'"

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Categories: Latest News

Bankruptcy Won't Keep Remington From Producing Guns

Truthout - Sun, 04/08/2018 - 21:00
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Two-hundred-year-old gun manufacturer Remington has recently declared bankruptcy, which has some gun violence advocates thrilled -- but they should put away the party hats.

The venerable arms manufacturer is not going out of business, and the company will continue to produce guns after it's gone through the bankruptcy process. The confusion over what Remington's bankruptcy actually means highlights just how tangled the laws surrounding insolvency can be, as well as the importance of accuracy in conversations about business practices.

In February, Remington started making moves to file for bankruptcy protection, citing what some are calling the "Trump slump" in gun sales; numbers are dropping under the Trump Administration, reflecting larger gun buying trends. Progressive, liberal administrations tend to be good for gun sales, but under conservatives, people are less worried about the possibility of losing access to weapons via tighter gun control.

When many of us hear "bankruptcy," we think of liquidating assets and closing up shop. But in Remington's case, the filing is actually a chapter eleven, also known as "reorganization."

If this sounds pedantic and boring to you, you're not alone -- but it's an important distinction. This move allows the company to restructure itself and get rid of some distressed assets to stay viable in the long term -- possibly by making itself appealing to a potential buyer.

Remington is also seeking to secure funding to keep itself afloat. Some of the banks financing the company will sound familiar: Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Deutsch Bank and Chase are all willing to take a chance on investing in the arms trade. Without this financial support, the company would have been forced to close. Those funds also facilitate a swift emergence from chapter eleven, helping Remington keep on making guns while it restructures itself.

But Remington faces another problem: a prolonged class action lawsuit surrounding the Sandy Hook killings in 2012, with parents attempting to sue the manufacturer in federal court. By declaring bankruptcy, the company may be able to neatly exclude itself from liability in this case, starting with a clean slate. In a separate legal case, Remington would also be able to dodge responsibility for a settlement regarding a manufacturing defect on one of its rifles.

You may have heard that gun manufacturers enjoy "absolute immunity" from legal consequences for their products. That's not quite accurate, but it is true that the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act extends special treatment that makes it more challenging to bring suit against gunmakers. Sandy Hook parents have already been rebuffed in courts because of this in the past. Some critics wonder if this bankruptcy filing is actually just a way to avoid liability in court.

When you hear that a company -- especially one in a notorious industry -- is filing for bankruptcy, take notice of the kind of filing involved and how the company intends to reorganize itself. A company may plan on starting up again, selling itself to another company or liquidating.

If you're troubled by the gun industry's unique legal protections and by the larger trade in arms, you may wish to consider hitting gun manufacturers where it hurts: In addition to not buying guns, you can put pressure on banks to stop investing in the industry, cutting off the supply of money these companies need to thrive.

Categories: Latest News

TigerSwan Employee Applied for Security License in Louisiana Without Disclosing Ties -- After Firm's Attempt Was Denied

Truthout - Sun, 04/08/2018 - 21:00

The private security firm TigerSwan, known for its controversial military-style tactics against Dakota Access Pipeline protesters, is appealing the decision to deny its application for a license to operate in the state of Louisiana, where Energy Transfer Partners is building the Bayou Bridge Pipeline.

On February 26, Anne White Hat, Rosebud Lakota Nation, was among those arrested after protesting at a Bayou Bridge Pipeline construction site. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)

The private security firm TigerSwan, known for its controversial military-style tactics against Dakota Access pipeline protesters, is appealing the decision to deny its application for a license to operate in the state of Louisiana, where Energy Transfer Partners is building the Bayou Bridge pipeline. In November, several environmental groups opposed to the Bayou Bridge pipeline attempted to intervene in this case, saying their members were particularly vulnerable to TigerSwan's security and surveillance practices should it be allowed to operate in support of that oil pipeline, but today the Louisiana State Board of Private Security Examiners denied this request.

However, during this process, it came to light that the state board denied another security license application from a TigerSwan employee who failed to disclose her employment with the firm after TigerSwan's application was rejected.

The board's deposition of this employee, obtained via a public records request, was included in the request to intervene in TigerSwan's case by 350 New Orleans, Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, Gulf Restoration Network, L'eau Est la Vie ("Water Is Life") Camp, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, and Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association-West.

"Given its track record, TigerSwan should not be allowed to come into Louisiana and use their military-style tactics to hinder the right of ordinary Louisianans to exercise their First Amendment rights," Pamela Spees, attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, who is representing the groups, said in a statement. "The board did the right thing in denying them a license."

TigerSwan Employee Tries to Set Up New Security Firm in Louisiana

TigerSwan ran Energy Transfer Partners' security and intelligence efforts during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests in North Dakota. (Photo: Aman Dhaliwal / Oceti Sakowin Camp)

Part of the reason the board cited for rejecting TigerSwan's case on July 17, 2017 was "they were denied licensure twice in [North] Dakota and are pending litigation," according to the board's executive director Fabian Blache III.

TigerSwan is being sued by the North Dakota Private Investigation and Security Board for allegedly performing security work in the state without a license during and after the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access pipeline.

On September 19, 2017, the Louisiana board deposed TigerSwan employee Lisa Smith, who had applied for a license to operate her brand-new private security firm, LTSA, LLC, in Lafayette, Louisiana. While she originally said she opened the company office in August, later in the deposition Smith corrected this to say it was actually July -- the same month that TigerSwan's application was rejected. Louisiana state records indicate that LTSA, LLC was registered on August 3, 2017.

In her license application, filed August 4, Smith, a resident of North Carolina, where TigerSwan is also based, submitted a resume which did not disclose her contemporaneous employment with TigerSwan.

Instead, she listed her employer as "Metlife MSOC," which is the security operations center where the firm had contracted her to work. In the September deposition, she confirmed that TigerSwan paid her salary but that she reported for work at Metlife.

In Lisa Smith's deposition on September 19, 2017, she denies her company LTSA was set up in relation to TigerSwan's denied license to operate in Louisiana.

During the deposition, the board asked Smith whether or not she had ever listed TigerSwan as her employer on her LinkedIn profile. She answered that she did not remember.

However, the board supplied an email with a screenshot of a Google search result showing a cache of her LinkedIn profile, which listed her as a "Watch Officer at TigerSwan/Metlife SOC." Her current LinkedIn profile does not list her employment with TigerSwan, and while during the deposition Smith said her Metlife contract was already expired in September, her profile continues to list "Metlife-MSOC" as her present employer.

When asked by the board about why she decided to open a security firm in Louisiana, Smith replied: "The opportunities were good." However, she denied LTSA had any connection with TigerSwan and its failure to secure a license in the state, and further said that while she had heard of "Bayou Bridge," she said she did not know what it was or whether she would consider applying for work related to it in the future.

Smith also denied knowing someone named Brandon Nix. According to Blache, the state board's executive director, Nix was the agent who originally applied for TigerSwan's license in Louisiana.

"We later learned that he was the person liaising with Lisa Smith's registers office site to secure the keys to the property leased by her company LTSA," Blache told DeSmog via email.

In Lisa Smith's deposition, she denied her new security company, LTSA, had any connection to her employer TigerSwan.

The board turned down Smith's request for a license on October 4, 2017. "Denial was based on material misrepresentations in the application and during the State Board deposition," said Blache.

TigerSwan had two lawyers representing the firm present during Smith's deposition. It is not currently employed by Energy Transfer Partners to do security work related to the Bayou Bridge pipeline, a 162-mile-long project which will carry to Gulf Coast refineries oil originally drilled in North Dakota. So far, that security work has been performed by the firm Hub Enterprises.

Neither Lisa Smith not TigerSwan responded to multiple requests for comment.

TigerSwan Connections in Louisiana

Even before the Louisiana board rejected TigerSwan's application, the private security firm already appeared to be working its connections to the Bayou Bridge pipeline.

In February 2017, retired Major General James "Spider" Marks testified in support of this pipeline at a Louisiana Department of Natural Resources permit hearing and published an op-ed endorsing it in a local newspaper. In neither of these instances, however, did Marks disclose that he was chair of TigerSwan's advisory board, not unlike the way Smith also failed to share her ties to the firm. (Marks is no longer listed on TigerSwan's website.)

This seems to be a trend for Marks, who has a history of appearing on TV as a military pundit without disclosing his ties to military weapons companies.

TigerSwan appears determined to succeed in gaining access to perform security work in Louisiana.

As Julie Dermansky has previously reported for DeSmog: "A few days after TigerSwan's permit was denied in Louisiana, the company filed an appeal and hired five lobbyists who work for the lobbying firm Southern Strategy Group."

The firm is currently awaiting a hearing with the Louisiana State Board of Private Security Examiners appealing its denied application.

Louisiana Proposes Harsher Punishments for Pipeline Offenses

In February around two dozen protesters shut down for two hours a Bayou Bridge Pipeline construction site in Belle Rose, Louisiana. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)

With implications for future protests against the Bayou Bridge pipeline, this week the Louisiana State Legislature introduced House Bill 727, which proposes as a criminal offense the "unauthorized entry of and criminal damage to a critical infrastructure."

The bill seeks to include oil and gas pipelines and their construction sites among the definition of "critical infrastructure." For those convicted of damaging this infrastructure when a threat to human life is "foreseeable" or the action "disrupts" the infrastructure's operations, the bill stipulates a sentence of imprisonment and hard labor for between six and 20 years, up to $25,000 in fines, or both.

It also includes separate "conspiracy" charges, with similar criminal penalties, except that the maximum possible fine is $250,000. The bill both amends the Louisiana criminal code, which currently deals only with "unauthorized entry of a critical infrastructure" and creates the new crimes for damaging those facilities and conspiring to either illegally enter or damage them.

Several other states, including Wyoming, Iowa, and Ohio, have introduced similar laws in recent months which would criminalize the type of activities of past oil and gas pipeline protesters. Oklahoma already passed into law parallel legislation which has served as a template for other state proposals.

Some state lawmakers have specifically cited the Dakota Access pipeline protests as inspiration for these "critical infrastructure" bills and likened actions by pipeline protesters to "terrorist activities."

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On Embracing Intersectionality and Decolonization to Foment Personal and Societal Change

Truthout - Sun, 04/08/2018 - 21:00

For true liberation from all forms of oppression we must first flip the script of identity politics and embrace the concept of intersectionality. To do that, we must begin by examining and deconstructing privilege within each of us, say Ashanti Monts-Treviska co-manager of Cascadia Deaf Nation and Gerry Ebalaroza-Tunnell, a Pacific Indigenous scholar and transformative coach.

People listen to speakers during a protest held to draw attention to current social justice issues on the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. April 4, 2018, in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images)

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In 2018, the term "identity politics" is often associated with the promotion of tokenized personalities rather than on the representation and advancement of oppressed communities within society. This form of identity politics often revolves around empty partisan placards and exclusive single-issue platforms rather than on forming inclusive alliances meant to stimulate fundamental structural change. As such, it reinforces a populism that serves white supremacy and patriarchy.

The crisis of identity politics has undermined the concept of intersectionality, which is viewed as critical to the struggle for liberation from all forms of oppression. The recent assassination of the Brazilian Black queer activist Marielle Franco and the consequent public uproar demonstrate the threat intersectional leaders pose to the ruling establishment that uses division and preserves privilege to stifle change. Leaders such as Franco serve a vital unifying role in a peoples' transnational solidarity movement that embraces -- rather than eliminates -- identities.

Ashanti Monts-Treviska co-manages a social enterprise, Cascadia Deaf Nation, which focuses on creating a member-owned cooperative model that co-creates thriving spaces with Deaf Black Indigenous People of Color (DBIPOC*) in British Columbia, Washington State and Oregon. Monts-Treviska is currently a doctoral student in transformative studies and consciousness at the California Institute of Integral Studies.

Gerry Ebalaroza-Tunnell is a Pacific Indigenous scholar and transformative coach who intermingles Indigenous epistemology and Western philosophies.

Together, Monts-Treviska and Ebalaroza-Tunnell facilitate spaces for dialogue that shift paradigms and challenge the status quo. They are currently working on producing a resilience and adaptability workshop to address the dynamics between trigger and response.

In this interview, Monts-Treviska and Ebalaroza-Tunnell discuss the importance of intersectionality and decolonization as fundamental aspects of building a just and equitable society.

Yoav Litvin: Discuss the various components of your identity and the prejudices they invoke. Do you give preference to one over the other, or do you agree with Audre Lorde, who stated that "there is no hierarchy of oppressions"?

Ashanti Monts-Treviska: I appreciate the term "intersectionality," coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw. Without the understanding of intersectionality, it would be difficult to express exactly what I have experienced with all of my identities.

I view the various components of my identity as aspects of my experience. They are not separated from each other. The complexity of my identity is unique because it allows me to interact and connect with almost everyone through resilient empathy, compassion and conscious understanding, while dealing with a whole stack of biases against me.

Before I unpacked myself several years ago, I primarily adopted my most oppressed component, being Deaf, because of communication barriers due to audism in my family, in my learning environments, in various communities including Black communities and communities of color and other spaces.

Charity is practiced out of a sense of pity and is a means to avoid questioning the system of oppression.

Audism is best described as oppression or discrimination against people who identify with the spectrum of Deaf experience (Deaf, deaf, hard of hearing, late deafened, etc.). It is basically a normalization of the devaluing of the experience of an inability to hear or inability to hear everything in the normal range of sounds. Audism is one of the manifestations of the white patriarchal supremacist system, which defines the parameters of ideal model citizens. It is an overarching paradigm of lateral and horizontal oppressions. Within audism exists cultural-linguistic audism, linguistic audism, lateral audism, dysconscious audism, and passive and active audism. Most hearing people practice dysconscious audism, intentionally or unintentionally. 

Through the journey of unpacking myself, I realized it was a deep mistake to stick with the most oppressed aspect of my identity while ignoring or repressing its other components: being a Black Indigenous womxn. Each aspect has its own contributions to my overall growth.

My choice of a complex identity as a Deaf Black Indigenous Womxn of Color (DBIWOC*) means that I equitably acknowledge and embrace the Afro-Cuban and Native aspects of myself along with the resilient experience of being a Deaf womxn. As a womxn, I am gender fluid when it comes to clothes, and I am a queer when it comes to relationships. It means I would be with a person because of the soul attraction and the way they carry themselves.

In terms of my own deafhood, most people tend to pity me because I cannot share an experience defined by sound. I am extremely sorry for people who choose to believe that deafness, as a pathological or medical anomaly, needs to be cured or fixed. I view the Deaf experience as an organic one (including the ability to express myself creatively in American Sign Language) because it is a different way of processing information. There is an uncontaminated beauty in that.

How does the Hawaiian anti-colonialist struggle play into your personal experience of decolonization?

Gerry Ebalaroza-Tunnell: Growing up on the island of Oahu meant that I was part of a unique culture that is a blend of many ethnicities that make up Hawaii. On my birth certificate, it states that I am of Filipino, Spanish, Chinese and Portuguese descent. But according to my DNA test, I am also 32 percent Polynesian.

In Hawaii, everyone looks like me, speaks the same Native tongue as I do, and experiences life under the collective banner of "Aloha." In mainland US, I discovered that people live under an individualistic banner and in doing so, isolate themselves from one another.

My genetic makeup and life experiences meant that I was not only a member of those oppressed, but also the oppressors. My partaking in the system of hierarchical oppression, regardless of where I stood within it, was one of the colonizer.

The struggle to de-colonize myself came through education -- colonized education. As I worked on my Masters, and then my Ph.D., I read, processed and struggled. Finally, I came to understand that my mind was not my own: It had been colonized.

If we are to decolonize ourselves collectively, we must start with decolonizing ourselves individually.

I have come to appreciate Audre Lorde's statement that, "The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." But throughout my studies, I believed this statement was false; that colonized education could be used to dismantle the systems of oppression. I eventually discovered that the decolonization of one's mind is not only rooted in the access to knowledge, but in the willingness to dismantle rooted and programmed belief systems. I utilized Western epistemology to inform myself about myself. It is now apparent to me that as a Pasifika Indigenous scholar and cultural practitioner, I must learn and teach to walk in both worlds to ensure that my voice and the voices of all future generations are not oppressed.

In fact, it was through the lens of the Hawaiian struggle for de-colonization that I have come to find my de-colonized self. I came to realize that Hawaii, through Aloha, retains a fragment of an un-colonized civilization. By its very nature, the collective spirit of Aloha welcomes all to participate and be a part of it. The practice of Aloha on an island far out in the Pacific creates a bubble of potential that could be leveraged toward a de-colonized culture of modern human beings.

What have been some of the difficulties in cultivating a nurturing social environment that respects all components of your identity? How do you define your community?

Monts-Treviska: It was very difficult to work with or fit in with various communities because of my intersectional experience. It is hard to ignore my Latinx and Native background as well as my Deaf experience when interacting with Black communities. My unique intersectional background left me with almost no community because most people do not understand the meaning of co-creating a cohesive community.

Many are taught that charity is the best way to help those who are in need. Charity is practiced out of a sense of pity and is a means to avoid questioning the system of oppression. At Cascadia Deaf Nation, we believe in "sharity": a sense of sharing the collective wealth within thriving spaces.

In order to acknowledge privilege, one first needs to understand its roots.

I work on reframing the cultural-linguistic narratives through a new concept of Deafhood of color as a possible third space. Deafhood, in contrast to deafness, is a spiritual or transpersonal journey of discovering the Deaf experience and expressing it truthfully and creatively. Deafhood is also a decolonization process of dismantling the dominant status quo. Audre Lorde's work, along with various third spaces, validated the need for a deeper understanding of Deafhood to co-create a shift in collective awareness on multiple social levels.

What is the importance of deconstructing privilege with the goal of building a just and equal society free of colonization?

Ebalaroza-Tunnell: If we are to decolonize ourselves collectively, we must start with decolonizing ourselves individually. To do this, we must reach back and connect with our own Indigenous ways and the means in which they were colonized.

Throughout the process of my decolonization, I found myself shying away from the principles embedded in traditional knowledge and moving toward the Western cultural values of acceptance and integration. I stopped believing that my Indigenousness was an integrated state of being and I unwittingly gave up this important component of my identity. The realization of my oppression caused me to mourn, and I felt a deep sense of loss and sorrow as I became aware of the broken relationships and pain that I caused due to my shallow sense of power and privilege. Part of me inclined to take shelter behind the excuses for my behavior. I detached from those who I injured to safeguard myself.

It is instructive to examine the ancient story of the Tower of Babel, which has different versions in many global cultures: The tale of humanity and its great ability to work together to build a tower toward the heavens and touch the gods. In this story, humanity is scattered and languages are confused to ensure such a feat could never happen again.

Symbolically, this story exudes the self-organization necessary to build a tower and the collective imagination to dream it. What it also exemplifies is a disempowering force imposed on humanity. This power is colonization. We have come full circle here at the dawn of the 21st century: We have built a tower of human culture in which the stones are made up of a monetary illusion that is incredibly effective at allowing [nearly] 8 billion of us to simultaneously exist on this planet. To do so, we have erected a system that is very structurally demanding; a reality that requires reckless consumption. This is sustained through the protection of privilege and the establishment of firm hierarchies.

This societal structure was born through the dismantling of Indigenous epistemologies. All human cultures have been assimilated into this tower that we have created for ourselves.

What is the nature of the transition from oppressed to the oppressor?

Monts-Treviska: In our culture, privilege is often unexamined. Deconstructing privilege is one of the first steps to decolonizing the self from the narrative of the privileged group. In order to acknowledge privilege, one first needs to understand its roots. Second comes the question [of] whether those privileges help to preserve or dismantle the system of oppression.

I am especially interested in the expression of privilege in social justice and equity spaces as it provides insight into how these dynamics work in society in general.

Most people associate violence with physical and sexual manifestations, but are unaware or desensitized to many other, subtler forms.

Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed afforded me deep insight into how people become oppressors within their oppressed group. As a Deaf person of color, I could be an oppressor toward another Deaf person of color or Deaf-Blind person or a Deaf-Disabled person within the Deaf community because of my privileges that were either earned or awarded. Owning privileges and keeping them in check through humility enables a person the ability to share power and relinquish a hierarchical power structure. This is achieved by harnessing the power of listening, solidarity, humility, mindfulness, words and intuition.

Without acknowledging privilege, people easily fall into a dynamic of lateral oppression within oppressed communities. For example, in my case, a Hearing Black person can choose to represent him/herself by using voice to overshadow a Deaf Black person such as myself. As such, I had to learn to be more creative in bringing a different narrative to the critical issues. Unfortunately, I have to work harder to make that happen because I have less privileges in some areas.

How do you view violence? What are safe spaces, and how do you go about constructing them?

Monts-Treviska: Most people associate violence with physical and sexual manifestations, but are unaware or desensitized to many other, subtler forms. In fact, many people are oblivious to the fact that they are being consistently violated through various channels of violence.

The problem is that we do not know how to honor each other's existence because we are taught to exist in survival mode rather than in an internal space in which we can thrive. Thus, we compete and are violent toward one another.

Audism is violence. Racism is violence. Saying something to disempower yourself and to disempower people around you is violence. Reading something that makes one group of people look bad through destructive stereotyping is violence. Dictating how a womxn's body should look like is violence.

We lack an understanding of what actually creates a nurturing culture that provides both "safe" and "sacred" spaces simultaneously. But what is really safe? All-Black or all-POC or all-Deaf spaces are considered "safe" for these marginalized groups, but they are not always safe for people who have intersectional identities. Here, people can become oppressors toward their own people through lateral violence because of the systemic internalizations being unchallenged.

Words either disempower or empower us individually and collectively.

That's why I would rather go with "sacred" spaces -- to acknowledge that each person's journey and life experience is sacred. In the "safe space," we unintentionally project our privileges onto different people who are underrepresented or who are less privileged within that space. If I were to reframe the meaning of "safe," I would use the word "sacred welcoming" -- similar to the approach of welcoming a newborn every minute of our lives. Each person's soul is sacred; however, we contaminate the sacredness of our souls by internalizing the toxicities of our oppressive systems, which serve to divide people.

Discuss the importance and transformational qualities of storytelling. What role does it play in effectively countering colonialism, while rebuilding community?

Ebalaroza-Tunnell: Alo -- meaning "front" and Ha -- meaning "breath." Aloha means the exchange of the breath of life. That is what storytelling is: the exchange of ideas, the resolution of conflict, the changing of perspectives and the evolution of our collective being. Much can be accomplished by the sharing of individual stories.

From a Pasifika Indigenous worldview, storytelling is the most natural way for Indigenous wisdom to be passed on. The method of story gathering and story making/building can help us make sense of complex interconnected situations. It can serve as a tool for people to explore better ways to connect with each other by engaging in deep listening and transformative dialogue about issues that divide us.

Whether in caves or cities, the stories we tell remain the most typical and essential form of communication. All of us tell stories. We do not see our own stories as "stories" because we see experience through them. Narratives are not abstractions of life, but how we find ourselves engaging with it. We make stories, and those stories make us human. We can awaken into stories as we awaken into language or culture, which is present before us and will continue after we are gone.

Our stories possess truths and motivations, and they are wholly our own. We come together collectively -- as two or more -- with the incredible feat of melding these narratives together. These collective narratives could be anything we wish them to be and [we] should not settle for what we are told they should be.

Media and screens have us tethered and tied to a collective truth that is growing long in the tooth: The story of what it is to be a modern human -- a colonized human. The reality of ourselves is so much grander than this foolish tale of dominion over all we survey. We could be way finders once again, navigating across the sea by following the stars if only we chose to weave such a story for ourselves. The things we believe to be fictions are only a collective agreement away from becoming our reality.

How do you view the culture of "political correctness"?  What are some of its qualities that lend to oppression and the oppression of language?

Monts-Treviska: Most people think that they know how to say the right things. However, they do not bother to inquire about the intersectional experiences of different people, including Deaf POC. It happens because most people are afraid of what they do not know or understand.

Words either disempower or empower us individually and collectively. A deep understanding of the power of words is an essential key to uncovering the root causes of oppressions. Political correctness is similar to an easy "one-size-fits-all" approach when it comes to dealing with various critical issues. Political correctness instills fears in people about appropriateness rather than encourages them to investigate the "other."

When Deaf people internalize the political correctness from the dominant majority (i.e. hearing people) and project it into their culture and communities, it creates oppression of subgroups within Deaf communities.

If I were to reframe "political correctness," I would frame it as "reality experience;" each person's reality is different from another person's. We need to give people the space to embrace their own journeys. In order to decolonize our views on political correctness, we must learn from different people's reality experiences without judgement. In that sense, we could embrace different people's journeys and acknowledge their ability to contribute to humanity's evolution of collective consciousness in an equitable manner.

How do you avoid being used as a token within a predominantly white supremacist and patriarchic culture?

Ebalaroza-Tunnell: I take my work as the opportunity to teach. I wouldn't consider myself very popular within the supremacist and patriarchal models of our culture. If I were, these entities would approach me not to co-create communities, but along the lines of self-aggrandizement. Thus far, that has not happened. When it does -- if it does -- I suppose it will be as much of a battle as it would be for any teacher who challenges the status quo.

I must be true to myself and willing to sacrifice. I am no different than anyone else in this world. I would welcome more comfort than I currently have and relief from the discomfort I experience. How to find that and not sell myself out is the trick. It is a challenge to avoid self-colonization and that is the very struggle for enlightenment we all seek. Some days I am successful and others, I am not.

*For more information on third spaces, see this link; pages 23-25.

Categories: Latest News

Corporal Punishment Lives On: Students Nationwide Are Being Paddled, Restrained

Truthout - Sun, 04/08/2018 - 21:00

(Image: Lauren Walker / Truthout)

A news report last month revealed that three high school students in Arkansas had been paddled for participating in the March 14 national student walkout. It turns out 19 US states explicitly allow the use of corporal punishment on students deemed unruly, but all 50 states allow it to be used if students are considered a danger to themselves or others.

(Image: Lauren Walker / Truthout)

Immediately following the massive student walkout to protest gun violence on March 14, I was stunned to read an article about three students who had been paddled -- literally smacked on the backside with a wooden bat -- for participating in the protest. All three were enrolled in a public high school in Greenbrier, Arkansas, and according to the brief news account, they had "chosen" this punishment over in-school suspension so that they would not miss class or lose eligibility to participate in team sports.

Nineteen states explicitly allow a teacher, principal or other school staffer to penalize students with physical force.

Can this be legal, I wondered?

Turns out that the answer is yes, at least in the 19 states that explicitly allow a teacher, principal or other school staffer to penalize students with physical force. These states -- Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming -- say that physical punishment is a tried-and-true technique to maintain order and discipline in the public schools.

However, this does not tell the full story since even though 31 states have ostensibly outlawed corporal punishment, the federal Department of Education allows school authorities to use "physical restraint or seclusion in situations where a child's behavior poses an imminent danger of serious physical harm to self or others."

Eighty-six percent of those subjected to physical punishments have disabilities.

This vague statement has allowed physical force -- or in some cases placing a child in seclusion for an unspecified period of time -- to be used in every nook and cranny of our nation. Susan Mizner, director of the Disability Rights Program at the American Civil Liberties Union, told Truthout that while "manhandling" takes place everywhere, it is not evenly distributed among students. Indeed, according to Mizner, the most recent information compiled by the Department of Education's (DOE) Civil Rights Data Collection showed that 86 percent of those subjected to physical punishments have disabilities even though students with disabilities -- whether in special education or mainstream classes -- make up just 12 percent of the total enrolled. In addition, most of those who are corporally punished are children of color.

But even this disturbing figure is highly inaccurate, Mizner explains. Using California as an example, she says that the most recent statistics, from the 2013-2014 academic year, report 3,475 cases of physical restraint or punishment in the "Golden State's" public schools. "The problem is that California has close to 100 programs called 'non-public schools.' These are for disabled kids that the regular public schools don't want in their classrooms," she adds.

According to the California Department of Education, non-public schools are publicly funded and provide services to children who are "struggling academically, behaviorally, and socially." Most are affiliated with group homes and are geared to children in foster care. Oversight, Mizner says, is spotty, with the state's department of education simply recommending that "social workers review the records of youth enrolled in non-public schools to ensure youth are appropriately enrolled" before the start of each academic year.

"We know that restraint is frequent in non-public schools, kindergarten to grade 12," but, inexplicably, the Department of Education does not have a way to collect data from them, Mizner adds. "This means that the restraint figures that we've been given are just the tip of the iceberg."

Worse, no one knows if these off-the-grid programs exist in other states since reporting by "non-public schools" is not required by the federal Department of Education.

This grey area aside, Mizner and other advocates emphasize that corporal punishment does not improve behavior and is instead traumatizing to students, turning classrooms from safe sites where scholarship and inquiry can flourish into places full of danger and fear. This finding has been repeatedly corroborated by psychologists and child welfare advocates including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children's Defense Fund, the National PTA and the Society for Research in Child Development. Nonetheless, resistance to ending the practice is fierce, with an estimated 75 percent of parents believing that hitting a child is a necessary corrective for "bad" behavior.

These parents typically rationalize the use of corporal punishment by citing two biblical passages: Proverbs 13:24 which warns that "Whoever spares the rod hates his (sic) son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him," and Proverbs 22:15, which states that "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction shall drive it from him."

Punishment Versus Discipline

There is a big difference between punishment and discipline, Gestalt psychotherapist and trauma specialist Janice Hassan, who was herself hit as a child, told Truthout. "Discipline is about teaching the child about right and wrong," she says. "Punishment involves power over someone, and while the victim may appease the authority in the short term, physical punishment usually does not change them in the long term."

Injuries include abrasions, bruises, broken bones, hematomas, hemorrhages, muscle injuries, pain and whiplash.

Donald E. Greydanus, professor of Pediatrics and Human Development at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, further outlined the potential damage caused by corporal punishment at a congressional briefing. Typical after-effects, he testified, can include depression, low self-esteem, magnified feelings of guilt, drug and alcohol abuse, and anxiety disorders. "The use of corporal punishment in the school environment falsely and perfidiously reinforces physical aggression as an acceptable and effective means of eliminating unwanted behavior in our society," he told federal lawmakers. "Our precious children should not be subjected to hitting, slapping, spanking, punching, kicking, shaking, shoving, choking, use of objects including wooden paddles, belts, sticks, electric shocks, excessive exercise drills, or prevention of stool or urine elimination."

Injuries, of course, can also be physical. These include abrasions, bruises, broken bones, hematomas, hemorrhages, muscle injuries, pain and whiplash -- conditions that sometimes require hospitalization.

And it is not only the victimized students who are harmed.

Maggie Moschell grew up in southwestern Ohio and graduated high school in 1974. More than 40 years later she still vividly recalls hearing "the crack of the board" as it hit her classmates. "We'd cringe in sympathy," she says. "I remember a boy who came back into the room grinning bravely as if it didn't matter, but there were tears in his eyes. I thought it was a terrible thing to do, but growing up in the 1960s and '70s, we somehow didn't question it."

Ending Corporal Punishment

Despite wide-scale support for physical punishment, many parents, student advocates and anti-violence activists have continued to push for the abolition of corporal punishment, especially when it is used to discipline disabled children. They have pointed out that children on the autism spectrum and those who are non-verbal often use behavior to communicate. In addition, instances in which students are punished for behaviors that are linked to their disabilities -- a child with Tourette's Syndrome shouting random words, for example -- have been widely condemned.

Current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has, to date, said nothing about corporal punishment, but her predecessor, John B. King Jr., took a different tack and urged all states to abandon it. "The very acts that are permissible when applied to children in schools under some state laws would be prohibited as criminal assault or battery when applied to adults in the community in these very same states," King wrote in a November 2016 letter to governors and school officers. "School-sponsored corporal punishment is not only ineffective, it is a harmful practice and one that disproportionately impacts students of color and students with disabilities. This practice has no place in the public schools of a modern nation ..."

Not surprisingly, the ACLU agrees. Lawsuits have been filed in states where students have suffered egregious harm at the hands of their teachers or school security. Several, says attorney Susan Mizner of the ACLU Disability Rights Program, involve the handcuffing of elementary school children. Until recently, she reports, district schools in Covington, Kentucky, used School Resource Officers -- employees of the Sheriff's office -- to maintain order. In one case, an 8-year-old boy who was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was having a rough day and the Resource Officer was called. "The Officer had adult-sized handcuffs with him so he put these around the boy's biceps after the child tried to pull away from him," Mizner says. "He was so traumatized by this he had to leave the school district."

More than 50 countries around the world have banned corporal punishment.

In the second case, a 9-year-old girl was wandering the halls instead of waiting in the cafeteria as instructed. Mizner reports that she was put "in a seclusion room and would not calm down so they called an ambulance to take her to the hospital. When the EMTs arrived, they found her on the ground, in handcuffs, in a pain position." She also now attends a school in a different district.

Although litigation in both cases is ongoing, Mizner is pleased that law enforcement personnel have been removed from Covington's schools -- a small, but not insignificant, victory.

"These cases are very representative," Mizner says. "We know that restraint and referrals to law enforcement happen regularly to kids with and without disabilities. This tends to impact the youngest kids the most because they are often unable to articulate what happened and are less likely to fight back."

Improving Teacher Education

In addition to policy changes, what steps can be taken to banish corporal punishment from the classroom? Mizner says that teachers, especially those assigned to Special Education classrooms, need better training and support. "It's easy to demonize educators," she says, "and while some deserve this, many teachers have not been shown ways to react to a kid who is melting down." Learning the techniques to use when a student's behavior is escalating -- such as diverting his or her attention and disrupting whatever is causing the distress -- is essential. "There are many empathetic ways to help people disconnect from their emotions and get back on track," she says.

Taking police out of schools would also help curb physical punishment. However, more and more school districts are bringing police officers into the public schools, ACLU staff attorney Sarah Hinger, reports. "We know that in 2013, 24 percent of elementary schools and 42 percent of high schools had police stationed inside. We also know that 51 percent of schools that were majority African American or Latinx that year, had police on campus." Anecdotally, communities of color know that this has not only exacerbated the school-to-prison pipeline but has resulted in numerous Black and Brown students being tasered, pepper sprayed, put in choke holds, and battered with police batons. Unfortunately, Hinger says, an exact number of incidents is hard to come by since record keeping is inconsistent, in some places maintained by the school district and in others maintained by the police department.

For now, educating students and their families about their rights and discussing the negative impact of corporal punishment top the education agenda. "We need a huge cultural shift to help teachers, kids, and their families understand that corporal punishment does more harm than good and is counterproductive," the ACLU's Mizner says.

What's more, since more than 50 countries around the world have banned corporal punishment, advocates say that the US would be wise to follow their example.

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Categories: Latest News

New Abortion Law Requires Doctors to Keep Records that Can Follow Patients Through Life

Truthout - Sat, 04/07/2018 - 21:00

(Image: TippaPatt / Shutterstock; Edited: JR / TO)

Indiana passed a new abortion law last week that has made the news. Senate Bill 340 requires that doctors gather data about women who come to see them about "abortion complications," ostensibly to improve patient health and safety.

Sounds good in theory but the law is so broadly drawn that it quickly becomes clear that the bill is actually designed to punish women who have obtained abortions. First, the "abortion complication" symptoms that trigger the reporting requirement are vast. In addition to physical complications that could occur from any kind of surgery, such as blood clots and infection, emotional and psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression are also included.

Moreover, although the law requires that the symptoms must arise "from the induction or performance of an abortion," there is no time limit on the reporting requirement and no guidance for doctors to determine whether any of these symptoms actually "arose" from an abortion.

The vagueness of the requirements is even more concerning when combined with the potential punishment for failure to report the required data: up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. As a result, doctors are likely to over-report data to avoid violating the law.

And what is this required data? Like the definition of "abortion complications," it is also broad and belies its stated purpose of protecting patients' health. Doctors must provide detailed data about the abortion itself including its location, date and prior treatments for complications. But information about the patient herself must also be collected, including her county and state of residence, her age and her race. Let's just pause. Her race? What possible relevance could that have? The age of patient is tenuous enough; perhaps some kind of argument could be made that risks go up as the woman ages. But race. There is no medical reason to collect that kind of information. Doctors must also report the patient's education level. Again, what? Why?

So, any time a woman comes in to see a doctor for an infection, depression, or Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (which has multiple potential causes), her doctor is likely to ask her if she had an abortion. If she has, the doctor is then likely to ask her a series of questions about the abortion and herself in order to make sure her symptoms are not caused by the abortion. And then the doctor may report her information to the state. As a woman who lives in Indiana and has experienced symptoms on the list (there are 25 listed symptoms, one of which is death -- I'll let you figure out how a woman could report that symptom to her doctor), I am horrified by the thought that my doctor would quiz me on whether I had had an abortion just because of those ailments.

To say that the conversation would turn awkward is an understatement. To say that women who have had abortions would feel uncomfortable, shamed and persecuted by such questioning is obvious.

But is it legal? Can the state require doctors to gather this information using such broad guidelines? Does it violate the woman's privacy? Does it violate the doctor's right to freedom of speech?

The woman's right to privacy is unlikely to be a viable avenue to challenge this law -- the information will not identify her by name or address. Doctors might have a better chance by arguing that this law compels them to speak.

Compelled speech is generally unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Recently, the Supreme Court has taken cases that concern compelled speech, one of which involves abortion. Unfortunately, the compelled speech doctrine has done little to assist abortion providers. Historically, the Supreme Court has been unwilling to strike requirements that doctors provide information to their abortion patients, even if the information is not strictly medically necessary. According to Planned Parenthood v. Casey, although the compelled speech doctrine is implicated, doctors can be required to give information to patients as long as the information is "truthful and not misleading."

Since Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 26 states now require abortion providers to give "informed consent information," and the requirements of the content of that information vary widely. In several states, some of the required information is demonstrably false and clearly intended to deter women from obtaining abortions. For example, some states require physicians to tell women that abortions may cause breast cancer, despite medical evidence to the contrary. The Supreme Court has yet to address the issue of compelled false speech.

But Indiana's law requires something different. Instead of requiring speech in order to provide an abortion, Senate Bill 340 requires doctors to ask questions and gather information after the abortion has already been provided. This is not an issue of informed consent, which was the sole basis for approving the information provided in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

As noted above, the stated reason for the quizzing and data-gathering is to improve women's health and safety, but just looking at the data gathered shows that something else is going on. This is not about health and safety. First, abortions are one of the safest surgeries a woman can obtain and are certainly safer than giving birth. Legislators who argue the dangers of abortion surgeries have historically, and hilariously, shown they have absolutely no knowledge of how the surgery is carried about. For starters, there is no incision, and physical complications are rare.

Second, the law does not apply to women who obtain the exact same surgery -- a "dilation and curettage" -- if the fetus has already died due to miscarriage, even though the surgery is the same. In fact, I know of no other surgery that requires doctors to compile the kind of data required by Senate Bill 340 several years after the surgery took place. If women's emotional health is so important, shouldn't such data be required at least for women who have suffered miscarriages, which are incredibly traumatic?

Finally, the fact that anti-abortion groups are gleefully anticipating future reporting shows the true purpose of this law: to further stigmatize abortions.

In sum, under this law, anti-abortion legislators have found a new way to punish women for getting an abortion. Not only will Indiana women have to endure reading informationthat tells them that Indiana prefers childbirth, and abortion can lead to fertility issues (false), but, for the rest of their lives, their doctors may quiz them about their abortion if they ever present certain -- very common -- physical or emotional symptoms. The stigma will follow them for the rest of their lives, souring their relationships with their doctors, and likely chilling their willingness to report these symptoms in the future. How does that help women's health?

Categories: Latest News

How Do You Tell the Kids that Grandma Is in Jail for Resisting Nuclear Weapons?

Truthout - Sat, 04/07/2018 - 21:00

"Our grandma is in jail," Madeline tells a woman wrestling a shopping cart at Target.

"She went over a war fence and tried to make peace," Seamus adds helpfully. "They arrested her, and she is in jail now."

"Where?" the woman asks, looking from them to me in disbelief and maybe pity.

"We don't remember," the kids say, suddenly done with their story and ready to make passionate pleas for the colorful items in the dollar section over the woman's shoulder.

"Georgia," I say, but I don't have a lot of energy to add detail to my kids' story. They hit all the high points.

"There's a lot going on these days," she says. I agree, and we move on into the store and our separate errands.

I was happy not to say more at that moment, happy to avoid a sobbing breakdown at Target, happy to wrestle one little bit of normal out of a very abnormal day.

My mom, Liz McAlister, who turned 78 in November, had been arrested deep inside the King's Bay Naval Base in St. Mary's, Georgia in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Along with six friends, she carried banners, statements, hammers and blood onto the base. They started their action on April 4: the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination.

Their statement made connections between nuclear weapons, white supremacy and deeply embedded racism. It is a long statement, but given that they were carrying it into a free-fire zone -- where military personnel are authorized to use deadly force — there was no particular need for brevity: "We come to Kings Bay to answer the call of the prophet Isaiah (2:4) to 'beat swords into plowshares' by disarming the world's deadliest nuclear weapon, the Trident submarine. We repent of the sin of white supremacy that oppresses and takes the lives of people of color here in the United States and throughout the world. We resist militarism that has employed deadly violence to enforce global domination. We believe reparations are required for stolen land, labor and lives."

They walked onto King's Bay Naval Station just hours after Saheed Vassell was shot and killed in a barrage of bullets by New York City police officers, just hours after hundreds of demonstrators filled the streets of Sacramento for another day, shouting "Stephon Clark, Stephon Clark, Stephon Clark" and demanding accountability after the young father of two was killed by police officers on March 18. These seven white activists know that when you are black in this country, your own corner, your grandmother's own backyard, is a free-fire zone more dangerous than any military base.

There is indeed a lot going on these days.

The statement continues: "Dr. King said, 'The greatest purveyor of violence in the world (today) is my own government.' This remains true in the midst of our endless war on terror. The United States has embraced a permanent war economy. 'Peace through strength' is a dangerous lie in a world that includes weapons of mass destruction on hair-trigger alert. The weapons from one Trident have the capacity to end life as we know it on planet Earth."

Kings Bay is the largest nuclear submarine base in the world at about 16,000 acres. It is the home port of the U.S. Navy Atlantic Fleet's Trident nuclear-powered submarines. There are eight in total, two guided missile submarines and six ballistic missile submarines. These submarines were all built in Groton, Connecticut -- right across the river from our home in New London. Each submarine, my mom and her friends assert, carries the capacity to cause devastation equivalent to 600 of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima, Japan.

"Nuclear weapons kill every day through our mining, production, testing, storage and dumping, primarily on indigenous native land. This weapons system is a cocked gun being held to the head of the planet. As white Catholics, we take responsibility to atone for the horrific crimes stemming from our complicity with 'the triplets' [of evil]. Only then can we begin to restore right relationships. We seek to bring about a world free of nuclear weapons, racism and economic exploitation."

That is not the end, you can read the whole statement and their indictment of the United States on their Facebook group.

These sorts of actions -- called Plowshares -- have a nearly 40-year history, since my father and uncle and six others broke into the King of Prussia plant in Pennsylvania in 198o to "beat swords into plowshares." They struck at nosecones with hammers and marked the weapons with blood to reveal the human costs and mess and suffering the weapons are built to wreak in the world.

My father participated in five of these Plowshares actions in his lifetime and helped organize countless others. Committed conspirers, steeped in active nonviolence, have carried out more than 100 of these actions since 1980. This is my mom's second action. She and her current co-defendant Clare Grady, were part of the 1983 Griffiss Plowshares in upstate New York.

My parents estimated that they spent 11 years of their 27-year marriage separated by prison, and it was mostly these actions that kept them apart and away from us. Countless life events in our family -- birthdays, graduations, celebrations of all kinds -- were stuttered by the absence of one of our parents. I say this with pain and loss, but no self-pity. Dad was able to attend my high school graduation, but not my brother's. We went straight from my college graduation to visit my dad in jail in Maine. I missed all the raging keggers, sweaty dance parties and tearful goodbyes that marked the end of college for my friends to sit knee-to-knee with my father in a cramped and soulless room. On chairs designed for maximum discomfort, I tried to share my momentous day and all my 22-year-old big feelings while ignoring the guards and the room crowded with a dozen others doing the same thing. We wrote thousands of letters. They often crisscrossed each other so that there was a constant weaving of story and sharing across the miles.

So, when I explained that grandma was in jail to my kids -- 11-year-old Rosena, 5-year-old Seamus and 4-year-old Madeline -- I felt the weight of a lifetime of missing and provisional family experiences, frequently lived in prison visiting rooms and through urgently scrawled letters.

I tried to figure out a way to talk to them that would make sense and, in thinking it through, I realized that none of this should make sense to anyone! Nuclear weapons? Absurd! Police brutality and white supremacy? Senseless! Plowshares actions with their symbolic transformation and ritual mess-making? A foolhardy act of David versus Goliath proportions!

So, I didn't try to make it make sense. I just forged ahead, grateful that they had some context: We had participated in the Good Friday Stations of the Cross organized by Catholic Worker friends at our local submarine base a few days earlier, and -- the night before -- we had gone to hear a dramatic reading of Dr. King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."

"Hey guys, know how we went to the sub base on Friday? Grandma was arrested in a place like that late last night. She is in jail now. She and her friends broke onto the base to say that nuclear weapons are wrong. Remember how Dr. King talked about just and unjust laws?" They nodded and remembered that King said "one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws." I told them that Grandma thinks that nuclear weapons -- things that can destroy so much life on our planet -- shouldn't be built and protected and paid for when so many people are hungry, so many kids don't have good schools to go to, so many people don't have good homes. I went on and on.

"Wait, these nuclear weapons … They are war things?" Seamus asked.

"Yep, they are war things, bud."

"Good for grandma," he said, and that was the end of our serious conversation.

Mom and her friends are charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass and two felonies: possession of tools for the commission of a crime and interference with government property.

The kids and I didn't talk about the kind of jail time that could mean for their grandma. It is all I am thinking about right now, but they moved on, imagining out loud and with a lot of enthusiasm how grandma got by the attack dogs and police officers they had seen at the Groton Submarine Base. They were sure there was a similar set up in Georgia. "Grandma needed a ladder and a cheetah," said Madeline. "A cheetah is the only animal that can outrun dogs and police officer's bullets."

I am pretty sure no cheetahs were involved in the Kings Bay Plowshares, but I am happy my daughter sees her grandmother as a fierce and powerful anti-war activist astride a wild cat.

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Categories: Latest News

Betsy DeVos Wants to Roll Back Critical Guidance on School Discipline

Truthout - Sat, 04/07/2018 - 21:00

Once again, Betsy DeVos is attempting to rescind Obama-era guidance on education issues. This time, she's proposing a rollback of guidelines developed to reduce racialized discipline disparities in schools.

Black and brown children -- especially if they are disabled -- are disproportionately subjected to discipline in schools.

And critics argue that this reality feeds the school-to-prison pipeline – sometimes very directly. Schools may refer students to law enforcement for discipline, and some may keep armed officers on campus as "security." When kids are targeted for suspension and expulsion at higher rates, the disadvantage often spills over into adulthood.

The Obama guidelines focused on moving away from punitive measures and developing more positive approaches to behavioral problems on campus. The federal government argued that discipline disparities constitute a civil rights violation and that schools need to take measures to ensure students are treated equally -- regardless of gender, race or disability status. They also placed a heavy emphasis on keeping students in school and promoting safe, supportive learning environments -- not referring students elsewhere for discipline.

This policy shift is taking place alongside the national gun violence debate, and that's not a coincidence. Some "law and order" conservatives believe that having armed officers --  or teachers -- in schools will make it easier to respond to gun violence, keeping children safer. They also argue that tough disciplinary protocol, like the zero tolerance policies that tend to create extreme racial disparities, can improve school safety.

But if these guidelines are overturned, schools won't have access to the wealth of resources that were previously included. That's unfortunate, as the Department of Education worked extensively to create tools that could connect people with information and organizations for support when changing their disciplinary practices. In addition to mitigating racial disparities, these shifts in thinking about discipline were also designed to help struggling kids stay in school, rather than abandoning them to the legal system.

Schools are using principles like trauma-informed care, restorative justice and positive behavioral interventions and supports to meet students where they are when discipline problems arise. These measures focus on learning why students are acting out and working together to develop a solution that resolves the problem. This approach can help the student deal with underlying issues, while protecting the safety and functionality of the learning environment. Using these tools can generate very real results, and the Department of Education proposal could set districts back in time.

Of course, Betsy DeVos isn't the only one looking to school discipline to resolve the gun problem. Senator Marco Rubio just introduced a bill that would penalize school districts that maintain a policy of not reporting disciplinary actions to law enforcement unless it's strictly necessary. Such districts have taken this approach in order to reduce the risk of negative interactions between students and law enforcement, arguing that they can handle most basic discipline needs on campus, while still leaving crimes to police.

Of course, the real solution to the crisis of U.S. gun violence, including school shootings, doesn't lie with schools and how they make disciplinary decisions. It lies in the ready availability of weapons capable of discharging large numbers of high velocity rounds very quickly -- and a refusal by Congress to take action.

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Categories: Latest News

"Things That Make White People Uncomfortable": Michael Bennett's Essential New Book

Truthout - Sat, 04/07/2018 - 21:00

Last week, my good friend Michael Bennett, former Seattle Seahawk and current Philadelphia Eagle, released his new book, Things That Make White People Uncomfortable -- the memoir/manifesto that he wrote with my other dear friend Dave Zirin.

I am going to assume my position as a teacher here and officially assign you homework: read this book! Take notes. Report back on it to your community. Then take action. It is indispensable for anyone who wants to understand why so many players today are refusing to just shut up and play and are creating the new national pastime of protest and play. But this book is much more than just an expository essay about the new Black athlete.

This is one of those rare books you read that will change the way you understand yourself and your place in the world. Only a few books have had that kind of impact on me. Books like The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Angela Davis: An Autobiography. Uncomfortable has me feeling like a kid again, remembering how those amazing autobiographies turned me upside down and inside out.

These have been the rare books where the authors have fully exposed their souls to the world, and in that vulnerability allowed me to confront my own deepest fears. These have been the books that helped me to see that I'm not alone, that others have suffered from racism, oppression, isolation, feelings of inadequacy, and have turned that pain into a powerful force for good in the world. I too have felt the anxiety that Michael describes that comes from confronting power -- and seeing that it's okay to talk about it publicly was liberating. He writes, "It's harder than they warned you: the anxiety will scratch at your insides like the creature in Alien, except it never bursts out of your chest, it just stays there, scratching."

Uncomfortable, like the great autobiographies of Malcolm and Angela, has helped me understand the meaning of dedication. Michael writes, "The more success you have, the more you hear a voice suggesting sweetly and seductively to rest on those laurels and just skip it or dog it, go half-assed. That voice asks you, 'Why are you working that hard? You got it!' But to be great, you have to continuously put yourself in the mind-set where you don't got it. You have to think about the times you were hungry, you were struggling, you were a kid being pushed around." And Michael takes this attitude both into the gym and around the organizing table: "Whether I die tomorrow or in sixty years, if the only things about me that people talk about are the Pro Bowls and the Super Bowl appearances, I will have failed. I want my legacy to be what I did in the community and the positive changes this work might have created in people's lives."

I can tell you from having worked closely with Michael over the past couple of years, he has walked this talk over and over again. I have been with Michael as he sat with youth listening to their perspectives on the movement for Black lives and their perspectives what needed to change. I have seen him support the Black Lives Matter at School movement. I have seen him speak at the Locker Room Talk forum at my high school where he took on the responsibility of athletes to speak out against sexual harassment, relationship abuse, and violence against women. I have seen him give a young student activist the Black Education Matters award. I have seen him sit down with the family of Charleena Lyles, a pregnant Black mother of four who was killed by Seattle police, and organize a rally and benefit for her family. I was there when Michael brought the Freedom School program to the Seahawks training camp and exchange ideas about the struggle for equitable education.

True, Michael has been one of the most visible leaders in this massive upheaval of athletes around the country who have protested for racial justice during the national anthem. But what you will learn about in this book is that Michael is just as committed to the struggles for women's empowerment, Palestinian rights, LGBTQ rights, and human rights -- and he applies the framework of intersectionality to understand how multiple oppressions can overlap to create deep and complex forms of injustice: "Intersectionality clicked for me when I thought about Charleena Lyles. She was killed because of racism, no doubt, but her life as a Black woman -- not just a Black person -- is critical to understanding her death. Charleena had suffered sexual assault and violence, and she called the police in the first place because she was worried that in abusive former lover was coming back to hurt her."

Uncomfortable will teach you that if you have truth on your mind, you can go ahead and just say it, unfiltered: "Being born Black is a preexisting condition in this society, with a set of stressors that you can't understand without living in our skin. It's not just the fear that you'll be the next James Byrd or Trayvon Martin or Sandra Bland. It's hearing dumb shit in school about America being the land of the free and having to speak up to remind my teacher of slavery and seeing all the faces change expression, from getting red with anger to others rolling their eyes, with looks of relief on the faces of people who had been thinking the same thing. I felt like Kevin in The Wonder Years, if Kevin had been Black and had to face an ass-whupping every day for trying to tell the truth."

Uncomfortable will teach you that we can talk openly about the many forms of trauma we face. Writing in a chapter about the unpaid labor of student athletes and the NCAA racket, Michael writes, "I think PTSD in players also results from a loss of identity. Little by little we conform to what our coach wants, what the program wants, what the academic advisor wants us to study so we stay on the field and bit by bit, chip by chip, we lose the foundation of where we are. We get stuck in a character. Then it's all over, and the PTSD becomes a sports version of postpartum depression."

And this book will teach you that it's okay to laugh out loud as we fight hard for justice: "Part of the mythology of sports is people think it breaks down barriers and makes us more equal. That's miseducation…It's going to be people realizing that we're all human: everyone takes a shit and everybody pisses. Some of us sit, some of us stand up, some of us have colostomy bags, but other than that, we do it exactly the same way."

Finally, Things That Make White People Uncomfortable will teach you that it's okay to ask the biggest questions about how our world is organized. Michael writes about his trip to Haiti with his Haitian teammate Cliff Avril and says, "It reminded me of being young and asking my mother, "Why?" As in, Why does the world even have to be like this? If you don't ask why you'll never be attacked or criticized. No one is going to go after you or your family. But if you don't ask why, nothing, not a damn thing, is ever going to change."

Whether you are a football star, or a teacher, or a student, or locked up, we can all ask the questions that cause discomfort -- and also produce the change that is so desperately needed.

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Categories: Latest News

Auto Alliance Pushed Climate Denial to Get Trump Admin to Abandon Obama Fuel Efficiency Standards

Truthout - Sat, 04/07/2018 - 21:00

(Photo: LanaElcova / Shutterstock)

The Trump administration officially announced Monday that it will scrap fuel economy and emissions targets for cars and light-duty trucks sold in the United States and set new weaker standards, effectively undermining one of the federal government's most effective policies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

As the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times anticipated late last week, the two agencies responsible for auto standards -- the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) -- both claimed that their internal reviews have found the Obama-era standards to be too strict, and that the agencies would go back to the drawing board to revise standards for model years 2022-2025. 

The weaker standards, expected to be revealed in coming months and reported to be well below the current targets of 54.5 miles per gallon (or roughly 35 miles per gallon in real-world driving conditions), will be celebrated as a victory for the automakers, which have been lobbying the Trump administration since the day after the presidential election and which used a major trade group to peddle climate science denial in support of the rollback.

"The Obama administration's determination was wrong," EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement. "Obama's EPA cut the Midterm Evaluation process short with politically charged expediency, made assumptions about the standards that didn't comport with reality, and set the standards too high."

Many argue, however, that weakened standards will hurt the average driver, who will have to pay more for gasoline to fuel the less efficient vehicles. Energy Innovation's peer-reviewed modeling simulator, for instance, shows how a rollback on emissions standards would cause nearly $400 billion in increased consumer costs between now and 2050.

Furthermore, weakening mileage and emissions standards will set up a fight with California, which has a unique authority under the Clean Air Act to set its own emissions standards for vehicles, and state authorities are signaling that they have no intention of chasing the federal government in a race to the bottom. Notably, over recent weeks, Pruitt has been publicly critical of California's authority to set its own standards, leading many to speculate that the EPA might attempt to revoke California's waiver under the Clean Air Act.

"California is not the arbiter of these issues," Pruitt told Bloomberg TV. The state, he said, "shouldn't and can't dictate to the rest of the country what these levels are going to be."

On Monday, a so-called conservative coalition sent a letter to Pruitt and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao applauding the decision, which had yet to be formally announced. Organized by Tom Pyle of the Koch-funded Institute for Energy Research, and signed by Michael Needham of Heritage ActionBrent Gardner of Americans for ProsperityMyron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, the letter goes so far as to say that "we believe repealing the entire program is appropriate and warranted."

The Auto Alliance Used Climate Denial to Push Its Agenda

Most automakers selling cars in the United States have been actively lobbying President Trump and the respective agencies to rewrite and weaken the rules. This is despite the fact that, in the wake of the financial crisis and $80 billion bailout of Detroit, the car companies helped design these regulations and publicly accepted the mileage and pollution standards.

Through the powerful Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers (or Auto Alliance) trade group, which counts Toyota, Ford, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, BMW, Mercedes, and Volkswagen among its members, the automakers sent a letter to President Trump days after the presidential election, and then another near-identical one to Pruitt after he was confirmed to lead EPA.

In the year since, pressure from the group has increased, and the Alliance has resorted to a disinformation campaign founded in climate science denial and cherry-picked data.

In February, as NHTSA was reviewing the Obama standards, the Alliance sent a report to the agency that presented a number of studies and resources intended to undermine the current standards and present the case for rolling back the targets. The report was written by an industry-connected team from Air Improvement Resources, Inc, along with Joseph D'Aleo, a policy adviser to the Heartland Institute, a fountainhead of climate denial.

Despite its name, Air Improvement Resources is a for-profit consultancy with a long history of combating environmental regulations. Their client tally includes a long list of organizations found in Desmog's Climate Disinformation Database, including the American Petroleum Institute, the American Coal Council, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the American Enterprise Institute.

The report itself relies heavily on comments from the automakers and on papers that were paid for by the industry or fossil fuel interests. Perhaps the most striking example is the citation of a study by Anthony Cox, Jr. that questions the health impacts of fine particulate air pollution (such as smog), a study that was directly funded by the American Petroleum Institute.

The Alliance's report also promotes outright climate science denial, with an entire section dedicated to questioning climate models. Other sections cherry-pick lines from studies to undermine the scientific consensus linking the burning of fossil fuels with more extreme droughts and floods, hurricanes, ocean acidification, and wildfires.

The Auto Alliance Wants You to Think It's Serious About Selling Cleaner Cars

Meanwhile, last week at the New York International Auto Show, the Auto Alliance, along with the Association of Global Automakers and more than a dozen automakers announced a new marketing campaign to "to increase electric car use throughout the Northeast."

According to the campaign's website: "Drive Change. Drive Electric. represents a unique public-private partnership between auto manufacturers and Northeast states to advance consumer awareness, understanding, consideration, and adoption of electric cars, including battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric, and fuel cell electric vehicles. By showcasing to drivers and passengers the convenience, affordability, technology, sustainability, and power performance of electric vehicles, Drive Change. Drive Electric. aims to put more electric cars on the road than ever before."

However, the effort is coming at precisely the same time that the Auto Alliance and its members has been actively lobbying for looser emissions standards, which would lower car companies' incentives for selling more electric vehicles.

As Fred Lambert writes on the popular electric car enthusiast site Electrek:

"They are launching this just as the EPA is about to release its decision over the fuel consumption standard that those same organizations have been pressuring them to lower.

If it does get lower, they wouldn't have to mass produce electric vehicles for a few more years and continue to focus on smaller numbers of EVs [electric vehicles] in CARB [California Air Resources Board] states, like in the Northeast."

California May Save the Auto Industry From Itself

The announcement opens the door for a new weakening of efficiency and pollution standards, but automakers will have to wait months before they know what targets they will have to achieve by 2022. Further complicating matters is California's unique authority under the Clean Air Act to set its own air pollution standards. Publicly, California officials have offered firm resolve in sticking with the existing, stricter standards.

"We are not going to go backward," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra told the Los Angeles Times. "We are not interested in a race to the bottom … We are prepared to take whatever action, legal or otherwise, we have to to protect our health and our economy."

Twelve other states and the District of Columbia have adopted California's standards, meaning that roughly 40 percent of the light-duty vehicles sold nationally will still have to comply with current standards.

Automakers do not want to have to produce two different types of vehicles within the American market, and have repeatedly argued on behalf of one national standard.

California officials will have plenty of support from the other states, as well as from many business groups and even automobile parts manufacturers. In March, a group of 46 businesses -- including major employers like Kellogg, Levi Strauss, Nike, and Unilever -- sent a letter to Pruitt warning against a rollback of emissions standards.

Meanwhile, vehicle parts manufacturers boast that the Obama standards have created jobs in the auto industry. In March, the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, the Manufacturers of Emission Controls Association, and the Aluminum Association all announced they are joining forces as the Automotive Technology Leadership Group, with a goal of advocating for continuing current fuel economy standards and reducing emissions.

"Do not slow down the pace on CAFE [Corporate Average Fuel Economy] standards," said James Verrier, president and CEO of Borg Warner, a major auto equipment manufacturer. "We've come a long way as an industry and we need to keep going forward. Don't go backwards and don't slow down."

Meanwhile, in Europe and China -- the world's other two largest auto markets -- carmakers are complying with ever-stricter standards, and any rollback of U.S. regulations would make American companies laggards globally. Chinese officials have even signaled a plan to end all sales of gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles. "I don't really know if the auto industry wants what this administration might be doing," Harvard law professor Jody Freeman told the New York Times. "It might be like the dog that caught the car."

A lesson could be learned from the last time that the auto industry resisted fuel efficiency improvements. For nearly two decades, the fuel efficiency standards, known as CAFE, held mostly static around 25 miles per gallon. By 2008, when the financial crisis struck, American demand for cars dropped considerably, and demand for gas-guzzling SUVs plummeted even faster. Combined with high gas prices, the 20-plus year run of flat fuel efficiency ended in a massive bailout of Detroit's Big Three automakers as American car companies lost market share to more fuel-efficient German and Japanese cars.

The Auto Alliance's own marketing claims that many electric cars are already cheaper to own than gas-guzzling alternatives. Meanwhile, a whopping 87 percent of American drivers want better fuel economy out of their cars, and 73 percent think the government should raise standards to get it.

Instead, the Trump administration has announced its intention to weaken standards, relying on misinformation provided by the Auto Alliance and its members, which will make it more expensive for Americans to drive and makes the entire auto industry less competitive globally.

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Categories: Latest News

Islamophobia Is Structured Into the State

Truthout - Fri, 04/06/2018 - 21:00

Islamophobia has its roots in the centuries-old concept of Orientalism with its stereotypes and misrepresentations of Islam and Muslims, which were codified in US citizenship laws until 1952, explains Khaled A. Beydoun, scholar and author of American Islamophobia. The book also points out that you cannot fight Islamophobia without confronting the many other systems of subordination it intersects with, like racism, sexism and classism.

(Photo: BigFoot2017 / Shutterstock)

The persecution of Muslims is tightly linked to other forms of white supremacy in the post-9/11 era. Learn how by reading American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear. Get the book from Truthout by clicking here.

Scholar Khaled A. Beydoun argues that the state apparatus has incorporated Islamophobia into law and policies throughout US history. In this Truthout interview, Beydoun holds out hope that Islamophobia can be ameliorated by challenging the systems that "embolden" it.

Mark Karlin: Islamophobia has deep historical roots not just in the US's xenophobia, but in law. How so?

Khaled A Beydoun: Although a novel concept, Islamophobia is anything but a novel phenomenon. The modern form of animus is rooted in a centuries-long' discourse and system known as Orientalism, which divides the world into two spheres -- the West and the Muslim world -- whereby the Muslim world is defined and demonized in mirror opposite of the West. Therefore, if the West is where modernity, democracy and liberalism flourishes, then the Muslim World is caricatured as arcane and backwards, totalitarian and tyrannical. The fundamental stereotypes and misrepresentations embedded by Orientalism, as a political and legal narrative, gave rise and continually drive forward Islamophobia today.

To be Muslim during the war on terror was to be guilty until proven innocent.

Orientalism is the mother of Islamophobia, and we saw this play out in the legal system. To cite an important example, American citizenship laws -- from 1790 until 1952 -- mandated that immigrants that wanted to become naturalized citizens had to be white. Whiteness, however, was more than color or appearance, but also intimately tied to religious identity. The courts positioned Islam as the antithesis of Christianity, which was central to how whiteness was understood and assigned, which in turn barred Muslim immigrants -- and also those presumed to be Muslims -- from becoming naturalized immigrants. This policy, and the cases involved with it, illustrates how Muslims have long been racialized as unassimilable foreigners and societal threats.

How did the so-called war on terror come to be a war on Muslims?

(Photo: University of California Press)Days after the 9/11 terror attacks, President George W. Bush declared, "You are either with us or against us" -- the infamous words that marked the beginning of the "war on terror" that was collaterally felt by Muslim citizens and residents. The war on terror was built upon a baseline that I highlight as my foundational definition for Islamophobia in the book: The belief that Muslim identity is correlative with terrorism. This baseline, and the presumption tied to it, not only drove the range of strident and sweeping policies targeting Muslims at home and abroad -- most notably the Patriot Act and NSEERS [National Security Entry-Exit Registration System] (a Muslim registry) -- but also enabled two wars, a "Clash of Civilizations" foreign policy, and the wholesale restructuring of the domestic national security apparatus. War was being launched on Muslims via bombs and airstrikes in Iraq, drones in Yemen and electronic surveillance in the United States.

Hundreds of thousands of Muslims were killed by US military efforts in the name of the war on terror, driven by the Islamophobic fear that specific nation-states had weapons of mass destruction -- when in fact, they did not. In the United States, the newly created Department of Homeland Security set aside the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of Muslims, stripping citizens and residents of their constitutional rights by way of broadly conflating Islam with terrorism, and Muslim identity with the threat of it. To be Muslim during the war on terror was to be guilty until proven innocent, and in many cases, no opportunity to due process to even prove innocence.

There is a paradox in US foreign policy, however, isn't there? After all, Saudi Arabia and other conservative Islamic states are strong allies of the United States, not to mention nations around the world with majority Muslim populations.

US foreign policy is riddled with paradoxes, particularly as it relates to Arab and Muslim nations. One of the most glaring contradictions is the US's longstanding and seemingly unshakable alliance with Saudi Arabia -- a nation-state whose domestic human rights record indicts it as one of the world's most inhumane, and a monarchy wed to a foreign policy that ravages the region and deploys petrodollars to spawn and embolden terror groups. Therefore, although the stated public objective of the American war on terror is to bring down terror groups, such as ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, al-Shabab in the Horn of Africa and so on, American economic and political policy is facilitating their growth and expansion. By virtue of aligning with Saudi Arabia, which is the ideological sponsor of these groups with elements within the monarchy financing these groups, the US is enabling terrorism more than diminishing it.

The 2016 presidential campaign demonstrated that racism and xenophobia seldom unfold on separate tracks, but furiously converge.

However, this paradox is consistent with what I call "structural Islamophobia," or state-sponsored Islamophobia. We must understand -- and this ranks as one of my book's principal takeaways -- that structural Islamophobia can be and is usually rational, meaning that the state -- whether through its domestic or foreign policy -- capitalizes on its relationship with Muslim actors to carry forward its stated objectives. This is evidence through its relationship with Saudi Arabia, which it calls an ally on the war on terror, although its fringe interpretation of Islam and petrodollars are strengthening terror groups in the region and beyond.

How does racism overlap with xenophobia?

The 2016 presidential campaign demonstrated that racism and xenophobia seldom unfold on separate tracks, but furiously converge. This intersection has remained during the beginning of the Trump administration, illustrated by the three renditions of the Muslim Ban and more. With these Bans, we saw how fear of immigrants was framed in both racial and religious terms, and specifically, Brown and Black Muslims coming from (at first) seven Muslim-majority nations. The central Islamophobic tenet -- that Muslim identity is presumptive of terrorism -- was at the heart of the xenophobic scapegoating and racial imagining of Muslim threat. In short, racist and Islamophobic animus toward Muslims fueled xenophobic fears.

We also see racism and xenophobia intersecting with the demonization of Latinx immigrants, evidenced through the threat against DACA, the Mexican wall and expedited deportations; and also, in relation to Black immigrants from Haiti and African nations, which Trump dubs "shithole countries." Xenophobia not only disproportionately unleashed against Brown and Black peoples, but in this era, perhaps entirely conflated with the racism steered against these groups, including Muslims.

What does the phrase "one attack away" mean to you?

"One attack away," for Muslims in America means many things. It is a reminder that life can radically change in a split second. An ever-looming fear that the state can, again, strip one's constitutional rights with tenuous or nonexistence evidence. An existential state-of-being that, in three words, perhaps defines what it means to be Muslim in [the US] best: that all the rights the Constitution theoretically extends -- from the freedom to practice your faith freely to the freedom of speech -- can be chilled or set aside after an attack by a Muslim, or even a non-Muslim.

As a result, the collective Muslim American psyche is in a constant state of fear of what may come after an attack -- particularly one of significant scale. Again, as I articulate throughout the book, Islamophobia is tied to the idea that the notion of Muslim individuality is virtually non-existent within the war on terror. Muslims are collectively guilty and collaterally punished after a terror attack. Vulnerable to the suspicion and policing from the state, and at the same time, the violent backlash from (private) Islamophobes. In order to rebuff this violence, they must condemn and apologize for every attack, and perform the "good Muslim" role, or else be punished. And in many instances, even when they do apologize or condemn, are still punished.

How can Muslims organize to resist Islamophobia?

Above all, it must be understood that Islamophobia is dynamic, fluid and a central part of the American fabric. It is longstanding, deeply woven into conceptions of American identity and citizenship, and not going anywhere. However, this does not mean that it cannot be diminished or, in part, dismantled.

Islamophobia is tied to the idea that the notion of Muslim individuality is virtually non-existent within the war on terror.

The most important dimension of organizing against it is to first, understand that Islamophobia is state policy and programming -- not merely irrational hatred or violence unleashed by hatemongers or fringe actors. It is spearheaded by surveillance and monitoring policies, travel and immigration bans, "see something/say something" programs, profiling measures, jointly and severally, state action that endorses the broad societal views that Muslims are a demographic threat that must be policed and punished. These Islamophobic laws instruct private citizens to partake in this war on terror project, and we see this through the vigilante violence and hate crimes sweeping the country today. In short, when the laws are saying "Muslims are suspicious," they are moving private citizens to keep tabs on their Muslim neighbors, classmates and fellow citizens. Muslims and their allies must organize, lobby and litigate to bring down these laws, and just as importantly, refuse to partake in carrying them forward.

Truthout Progressive Pick

The complex legacy of Islamophobia in the United States.

Click here now to get the book!

Beyond fighting Islamophobic policy and laws, Muslims must continue to build lasting coalitions with other subordinated groups. These strategic alliances are vital, and the spirit of this book, above all, is a call to deepening alliances in order to not only confront Islamophobia, but the racism, sexism, classism and many systems of subordination that it intersects with.

Islamophobia has become a mainstream social justice issue, but fighting it without also confronting the systems that embolden it will prove to be futile. But Muslims, of all races and ethnicities, economic classes and ages, are rising to the challenge, and we must acknowledge that this moment of rife Islamophobia has inspired a Muslim American renaissance in leadership and consciousness.

Categories: Latest News

From Stephon Clark to Voter Suppression, the Attack on Black America Intensifies

Truthout - Fri, 04/06/2018 - 21:00

Black Lives Matter protesters march through the streets in response to the police shooting of Stephon Clark in Sacramento, California on March 28, 2018. (Photo: Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty Images)

Republicans have enacted voter ID laws, purged voter rolls, shut polling places and enthusiastically embraced mass incarceration of Black people under different pretexts to deny them voting rights. Both Republicans and Democrats have maintained open season on Black bodies for law enforcement. The message couldn't be clearer: In this country, Black citizenship and Black lives have never mattered.

Black Lives Matter protesters march through the streets in response to the police shooting of Stephon Clark in Sacramento, California on March 28, 2018. (Photo: Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty Images)

It's hard to watch. Guns aimed at the dark. Loud yells. Loud salvo. Night drizzle in the tactical lights. Cops mistook his cell phone for a gun. I know already, he's dead. I finished watching the video of Stephon Clark's murder. Days later, White House Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders labeled it a "local matter."

President Trump has stripped Obama's mild federal oversight of police and left Black people even more exposed to severe state violence. At the same time, Republicans have enacted voter ID laws, purged rolls and shut polling places. Renewed governmental enthusiasm for mass incarceration and voter suppression has created a vortex in which Black citizenship, already second tier, is further ground down.

Republicans are effectively an anti-democracy party. They criminalize citizens of color while foreclosing elections to pass legislation for the wealthy. It's why we feel rage.

We see Stephon Clark dead and know it could be any of us. The laws that protect us are being peeled away.

Rough 'Em Up

"Please. Don't. Be. Too. Nice," Trump joked about slamming suspects' heads into police cars. New cadets in crisp blue uniforms clapped and cheered. A chill went down my spine when I saw the video because I knew the probable results of this joke. Every week, I see a car brake suddenly and cops jump out to stop a young Black man. He's scared. They pat him down, turn him and pat him again while yelling in his face.

We record it on our cellphones. The police leave. Sometimes, I ask if he is OK, but often, the young man is ashamed and scared and angry. He half-runs away. A heavy silence sits in the air, dissolved when one by one, we move on.

This scene is repeated across America. Around one million law enforcement officers -- federal, state and county -- form a vast pyramid that polices the 325 million citizens. The weight of the law is uneven, hitting hardest the Black poor who live in crime "hot spots" that are tightly crisscrossed by police on foot or in cars. Black neighborhoods from Ferguson to Detroit, East New York to the deep rural South are raked over by cops. Men and women are plucked off streets at five times the rate of whites. Whole families are thrown into the revolving door of jail, bail bond debt, homelessness, crime and jail again.

Our prison population swelled from 500,000 in the 1980s to nearly 2.3 million in 2015. Black people are only 12 percent of America but 33 percent of its prisoners. Generations of men and women are packed in cells where bitterness hardens them. I see it in neighbors after a week or month or year in jail. They walk, stiff. They knock fists like rocks. They sulk on the stoop, yelling in random rage at whoever goes by. Time slowly massages them back into life. Even when they regain freedom, they've lost the power to change the nation that hunted them down. In many places, they have lost the right to vote.

In fact, in 10 states, a felon can permanently lose voting rights. In 20 states, this right is restored after the sentence is served, including parole and probation. In four states, this right comes back after just parole. Fourteen restore it after the term is served. Only two, Main and Vermont, let prisoners vote while they serve time. In nine states, from Nevada to Alabama, Republicans have taken the right to vote from anyone who owed legal or court fees.

Here are three interlocking cycles that fuse into the vortex of second-tier citizenship for Black America: a pre-existing racialized poverty, aggressive policing and voter disenfranchisement. Race and class oppression overlap to become a barrier to being recognized as American. The hypocrisy of this does not escape the Black poor, who have a historical vision. They look back through family stories and see that they were never meant to be Americans.

Slavery by Another Name

At the end of the Civil War, Black people emerged from the thinning smoke, radiant with joy. They found lost family. They charged money for work. They built new lives. W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in his 1935 Black Reconstruction, "For the first time in their life, they could travel ... they could stand up and assert themselves. They need not fear the patrol; they need not even cringe before a white face and touch their hats."

It was a brief freedom. White southerners wanted free labor and control. Slavery was illegal, but there was a loophole: The 13th amendment allowed for the enslavement of people convicted of crimes. Black Codes were passed in 1865 by state after state, specifically Vagrancy Laws. If you were Black and out of work, you went to prison. If you were Black and could not pay a tax, you went to prison.

In prison, you could be "hired" out to private businessmen -- without pay -- to farm, pave roads and bust rocks. The court house was the new auction block. The prison was the new plantation. It was, as Douglass Blackmon wrote, "slavery by another name." Families who touched a loved one's face one day saw them vanish the next. Taken by sheriffs for one violation or another, whisked off to a chain gang. Years went by. Hair grayed. Faces wrinkled. Hope faded. One by one, those who had been incarcerated returned to unrecognizable lives.

In the Compromise of 1877, federal troops left the South. Instantly, the states enacted voting poll taxes, literacy tests and property requirements. Free Black people, embittered by jail time, now stared with hardened faces at new laws that stopped them from being citizens.

They told their stories to their children, who told their stories to their children. A historical vision was passed down generations. Black people knew how to peer through America's façade to the truth.

War on the Future

"I was in jail too. It's cold blooded. You go down there looking for justice," comedian and social critic Richard Pryor said. "That's what you find. Just. Us." We wiped tears of laughter from our eyes. Pryor's 1975 album, ...Is It Something I Said?, blasted from my boom box. In the mid-'90s in Hartford, we struggled with the fear of the war on drugs. 

Crack-addicted neighbors pushed shopping carts. Police eyed everyone from passing cruisers. Gangs of young men eyed us too. The hair on our necks tingled with panic. So, we turned the volume up on Pryor or a new tape to drown our thoughts.

In the '90s, poverty and hyper-policing were not new, but their ferocity was. We were two decades deep into Nixon's war on drugs and families were missing people, who sat in prison and returned eager to claim a corner or lost pride or lost time.

It turned out Nixon wasn't after narcotics; he was after us. Decades later, Nixon's policy chief John Ehrlichman told Harper's of the 1968 campaign that launched the war on drugs, "We couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.... Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."

Nixon was a salesman of law and order for Middle America. Again, blackness was criminalized not to stop real crime but to stop the push for full Black citizenship. Again, a loved one who you saw one day vanished the next, taken by the new drug raids into the interlocking network of new prisons.

Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter let the War on Drugs hum in the background. Then Reagan came along. It's always Reagan. He promised to "Make America Great Again" and return to an idyllic past by "running up the battle flag" on drugs. He implemented steep minimum sentences for crack, forfeiture of cash and property, all of which gutted urban Black America.

The next three presidents held the line. George H.W. Bush actually pinched a bag of cocaine during his first televised speech and said drugs were "the greatest domestic threat facing our nation." He increased regulations. He gave police military grade weapons.

Bill Clinton soothed American fears with his crime bill's "three strikes" mandatory sentencing and massive funds for 100,000 new cops, nearly 10 billion dollars for new prisons. He also ensured that more offenses qualified for the death penalty. Thanks, Bill.

George Bush II was too busy with the War on Terror to focus on the War on Drugs. It was only with Obama that a slow dial-down began. In 2010, he decreased the sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine. He did not send federal agents to close weed shops. He shifted the rhetoric on drugs, portraying drug possession as more of a health problem than a crime. (Unfortunately, most laws did not change to reflect this rhetoric.) His White House officials said, "We can't arrest and incarcerate addiction out of people."

Obama was a flawed president, but he also appeared as a herald of future America. It was the America of full Black citizenship, where destroying Black people wasn't a prerequisite for political power. Conservatives hate that vision and have long used the criminal punishment system to fight it. Southern politicians fought it. Nixon and Reagan fought it.

A deeply diverse nation is our inevitable future. But for now, at the climatic turning point, Republicans are willing to destroy democracy itself in an attempt to stop it.

Killing Democracy

"People who still support Trump believe America left them," D.L. Hughley said on his radio show. "It left them when it got a Black president. It left them when it let all these immigrants in. It left them when it gave gays the right to marry." He quoted the Bible story of two women who fought over a baby, each claiming to be the mother. King Solomon threatened to cleave it. The false one said, cut. The real mother said no, give it to the other woman and let it live.

"That's exactly how Trump supporters feel," he said. "They would rather have a dead half a country than a whole that exists without them. They would rather have a dead country than an America that moves forward."

If American democracy is under Solomon's sword, it's because the War on Drugs was always a proxy war on Black citizenship. Trump and the Republicans are again using mass incarceration and voter suppression to kill off the future. Trump falsely claimed there was a crime wave. Immigrants and Blacks were to blame, of course. His attorney general, Jeff Sessions, told prosecutors to throw the book at suspects in order to trigger mandatory sentences for minor drug crimes. Trump nominated Bill Otis to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, a man who, like Sessions, wants hard mandatory sentences. Trump lifted the ban on sending military-grade weapons to police. Trump approves of private prisons, and rolled back federal oversight of law enforcement around the country.

The terrible, churning vortex of the criminal punishment system will suck in more Black life. It will spit us out after we serve our sentences, and in many states, we won't be able to vote. If we can, there'll be fewer and fewer places to vote in the South because Republicans cut polling sites. If we show up, we may not have the right ID because Republicans have enacted strict identification laws. They cut the hours to vote. They cut same-day registration. They gerrymandered districts. They have Trump, who tweets falsehoods about millions of illegal voters and encourages his followers to closely guard the voting polls from "illegals."

American democracy is being killed by conservatives, who would rather erode -- perhaps even annul -- Black citizenship than lose their shrinking power base. In this way, Republicans are the part of reactionary drive that flows from its more pure and unfiltered source on the far right, in which neo-Nazis like Richard Spencer call for the US to become a white ethno-state through a "peaceful" race purge.

Democracy is dying in many sites all over the world. In Europe, in particular, anxious whites turn to nationalist, political parties to create a bulwark against immigration, diversity and the wealth gap. In France, it's the National Front that gains more votes each election. In Germany, it's Alternative for Germany. In Italy, the Northern League. In Austria, the ambitious Freedom Party. Nearly everywhere, there is a drive to erode the citizenship of the Other.

It's hard to watch the walls grow higher and close inward. It's terrifying to watch the shadows those walls cast overlap into the seemingly endless night of reactionary fear. It looks like the night when Sacramento police hunted down Stephon Clark, aiming their guns into darkness and firing blindly.

Our bodies are their targets. And none of this violence is a "local matter."

Categories: Latest News

The Federal Attack on Sex Workers' Rights Is a Threat to Everyone’s Free Speech

Truthout - Fri, 04/06/2018 - 21:00

(Photo: Matt Zulak)

On March 23, Craigslist decided to do away with personal ads. Last week, Microsoft announced plans to make it illegal to get naked on Skype. The company is also out to ban any "offensive language" from Xbox and Office. Reddit has changed its content policy as well: Now the site explicitly forbids users from advertising paid services including "physical sexual contact" on its platform. And it's not just the big names that are making such urgent amendments., a dating website for those into Furry Fandom, just shut down.

While some companies acknowledge it and some don't, this trend appears to be spreading in anticipation of a sweeping piece of federal legislation that could soon become law. Enter FOSTA, or the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act. The bill intends to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), which prevents online intermediaries from being held liable for their users' actions. The legislation was passed by the House of Representatives in late February. By late March, the Senate had voted to advance the measure (SESTA). It just needs Trump's signature to be passed. Needless to say, tech companies and Internet freedom activists aren't pleased.

Section 230 has governed the Internet for the past 22 years, which is why major platforms like Craigslist, Reddit and Microsoft have been able to host content that toes the legal line. But that kind of immunity became a significant point of contention in 2016, when the CEO of an online classifieds ad company called was arrested for helping facilitate child sex trafficking. A judge eventually dismissed the case, ruling that Section 230 ultimately protected the company. The law prevented the prosecution from going after the company, so politicians decided to go after the law instead.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization designed to defend civil liberties in the digital world, says FOSTA will force online platforms to become "much more restrictive in what sorts of discussion -- and what sorts of users -- they allow, censoring innocent people in the process." Other advocates for free speech say the measure violates the first amendment. Of course, there's a sector of the U.S. workforce that stands to lose pay and basic safety protections if this measure goes into place: sex workers.

"Since their invention, online forums for advertisements and community-building have been essential to sex worker survival," says Liz Afton, a counselor at the Sex Workers Project, an initiative of New York City's Urban Justice Center (UJC), which provides legal and social services to people involved in sex work. "The bill strips away their access to online platforms that allow them to post advertisements for employment opportunities, build community with other sex workers, and share safety materials such as Bad Date lists—a life-saving resource that alerts other sex workers to predatory individuals so they can avoid dangerous interactions."

Afton tells In These Times that taking away the ability to contact clients from home will effectively force sex workers back onto the street, where they risk exposure to police violence, street harassment, cold weather and inebriated clients. It also places sex workers in high-pressure environments, where they may not be able to negotiate things like compensation and condom use as effectively as they could online.

Moving offline also makes members of marginalized communities more visible to police and potentially problematic clients. It's not uncommon for workers who are transgender, disabled, and people of color to rely on web buffers to stay safe. 

"Being arrested for 'walking while black,' or 'walking while trans' is outrageously common," Red, a queer, non-binary sex worker and community organizer, tells In These Times. "Advertising online is a method of harm reduction. If sex workers can access affordable and reliable methods of advertising and screening clients, they are better able to work in-doors and in conditions they feel safer. Sharing client experiences and information is a method of harm reduction. Being able to communicate online about surviving violence and seeking resources is a method of harm reduction."

"Losing the ability to organize, communicate and generate income by advertising puts sex-working people at risk for loss of work, violence, and cuts people off from larger online communities," they add. "It threatens free speech but, more importantly, it threatens the bodily autonomy and self-determination of sex working people."

The impact FOSTA will have on those involved in consensual sex work is obvious, and ominous. Of course, proponents of the bill argue that taking away access to platforms where sex services can be advertised is necessary to combat illegal sex trafficking. But critics fear the ostensible attempt to target traffickers will end up doing more to silence their victims, instead. Big-name companies that can afford to track libelous content will likely do so by way of imperfect algorithms. The language victims of sex trafficking may use in telling their stories, or even outing perpetrators, could be easily confused with the language used by the traffickers themselves. Computers, after all, aren't so great at picking up context.

"What's most important here should be centering the voices of people doing sex work and in the trade, and who are survivors of trafficking, who know what's best for their well-being and futures," says Red. "If politicians actually listened to sex workers on how to help support survivors who have experienced the violence of trafficking, there would moratoriums on raids and arrests, expanded access to emergency immigrant visas, expanded housing, food and cash assistance programs for starters."

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Marvel's "Black Panther" and Uncolonized African Sexuality

Truthout - Thu, 04/05/2018 - 21:00

One of the most exciting aspects of the fictional land of Wakanda in Black Panther is its depiction of Black people sans colonialism's racial hierarchies about desirability. The central love story is revolutionary in its potential for more film depictions of Black sexuality and love free from the historical baggage of hyper-sexualized Black people.

Florence Kasumba, Chadwick Boseman, Danai Gurira, and Lupita Nyong'o in Black Panther. (Photo: Disney / Marvel Studios)

How much do I know about Wakanda? Not a lot, but I'll bet they have really good sex.

When I decided to write about my reaction to Marvel's Black Panther and the nation of Wakanda from my perspective as a first-generation Nigerian immigrant, sex wasn't the first thing to come to mind.

But the more I saw of this hidden nation -- free of the historical scars of colonialism, as well as the movie's unambiguously Black and sexy cast -- the more I realized that one of the most exciting aspects of Wakanda was as a world where Black people were free of the baggage of racial hierarchies about desirability.

Sex and desire often feel like the last taboos within the social justice space, too intertwined with feelings of guilt, self-hate and ambiguity for many people to begin to broach. And while there is a new willingness to dismantle European standards of beauty, there is still a real reluctance to discuss how the shadow of colonialism rises in our intimate relationships.

This reluctance is all too familiar to me.

Growing up, I was raised to be proud, if not borderline arrogant, about my heritage. However, as a child of Nigerian immigrants and grandparents, the deep imprint of colonial rule on the modern African identity was difficult to escape.

Below the layer of pride, the scar tissue of white supremacy was all too visible.

As a child, it materialized in compliments about my medium-brown complexion from relatives, and the monthly ritual of chemical perms. Today, it is seen in the global market for skin lightening -- a practice prevalent throughout Africa, Asia and the Caribbean -- that is projected to grow into a $23 billion industry by 2020.

In recent years, it's reared its head in our romantic interactions online. Indeed, Black women and Asian men are consistently rated on dating sites as less attractive than people of other races and ethnicities.

In popular entertainment, tropes of the Black "welfare queen," the "mammy" and the "Jezebel" are still prominent in depictions of Black female characters. Our own research at The Opportunity Agenda shows that people of color continue to be underrepresented in film and television, and when they are present, are often depicted as violent or criminal, or in minor roles.

The relationship between colonialism, voyeurism and fetishization is old. Sarah Baartman, a Southwestern Africa Khoikhoi woman bought as a slave in the early 19th century and exhibited in "freak shows" in London and Paris, is one of the best-recorded examples of this connection.

According to Columbia University professor of African art Zoë Strother, in her article "Display of the Body Hottentot," Baartman's sexualized depiction "represented a fantasy creature without language or culture, without memory or consciousness, who could never actually threaten the viewer with the sexual power of Venus."

More recently, a 2017 report published by Georgetown University Law School's Center on Poverty and Inequality found that Black girls are viewed by adults as less innocent, in less need of nurturing and more knowledgeable about sex than their white counterparts.

But in Wakanda, there is no voyeur or point of comparison. In Wakanda, T'Challa, the Black Panther, is left frozen by the beauty of Nakia -- an intensity and an affection in sharp contrast to the disregard for Black women shown by his enemy, Erik Killmonger, who discards his nameless Black female lover with ease. Her callous execution midway through the movie encapsulates the feeling of disposability that characterizes the experiences of many Black women in the US.

And while the central love story in the movie was tamer than I'd expected, the intimacy depicted between T'Challa and Nakia was revolutionary, not only in its originality, but in its potential to open the doors for more depictions of Black sexuality and love freed from historical baggage.

Black Panther has given me, and I am sure many other women, a vision of what is still possible, and confirmation of what I already knew: That we are beautiful, and in pressing need of greater visibility.

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How Standing Rock Is Leading by Example on Renewable Energy

Truthout - Thu, 04/05/2018 - 21:00

The protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline may have failed to stop Big Oil for now, but the folks at Standing Rock have taken their fight to other fronts. Water Protectors are taking proactive steps to move the Standing Rock Sioux reservation away from fossil fuel dependency and toward renewable energy.

Giant flood lights set up by a pipeline company and law enforcement illuminate a cloudy winter night at the Oceti Sakowin camp just outside of the Lakota Sioux reservation of Standing Rock, North Dakota, on December 1, 2016. (Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein / Getty Images)

The Trump administration quickly overturned the December 2016 decision by the Army Corps of Engineers to halt the construction of the infamous Dakota Access Pipeline -- almost as quickly as Trump took office. Subsequent challenges in court failed to prevent the pipeline from being completed and going into operation. Rather than concede defeat, Water Protectors have shifted their focus and efforts to battling the oil and coal industry on different fronts.

On the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, the Water Protector camps are no longer standing, but some organizers who lived and organized in those camps are now shaping the movement to shift the reservation away from its dependence on fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.

In 1956, the Standing Rock Sioux sued the Army Corps of Engineers and was promised -- as part of the settlement over the creation of dams on the Missouri River that stole part of the reservation's land and resources -- free electricity for the reservation. Instead, the reservation pays some of the highest rates for electricity in both North and South Dakota. Some residents pay $1,000 a month in electric bills, even as more than 40 percent of individuals on the reservation live below the poverty line.

In order to alleviate these steep electricity bills and the reservation's dependence on electric companies charging high rates for usage, the reservation is working toward creating a mandatory renewable energy standard, where, by 2030, 50 percent of North and South Dakota's energy will come from renewable resources, with a long-term goal of total renewable use. Currently, the majority of electricity in North Dakota is powered by coal.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab's "Disobedience Finalist Award" was given to the Standing Rock Water Protectors in July of 2017. The award is given to responsible, ethical disobedience in US society, and the Water Protectors received a $10,000 cash prize. On their behalf, Phyllis Young, Joseph White Eyes, Jasilyn Charger and LaDonna Bravebull Allard accepted the award. Young and Bravebull Allard called on MIT to develop a partnership to address the issues facing the Standing Rock reservation.

In January 2018, Young, a former council member for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and the coordinator/organizer for Central Oceti Sakowin camp -- the main camp of Water Protectors at Standing Rock -- organized an energy summit on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation attended by several faculty and staff members from Solve MIT, a resource to connect technology innovators with financial partners and other technology experts to implement solutions for specific societal challenges. Shortly after, MIT announced the Solve fellowship with the Oceti Sakowin. Four to six members of the Oceti community will receive grants this year to complete renewable energy projects for the community. Fellows will attend an MIT event in May 2018, and another one in Standing Rock in August 2018.

As Solve MIT begins to identify fellows and projects to help support, the Lakota People's Law Project, a North Dakota-based legal group dedicated to "efforts to reclaim ancestral lands, and to stop all threats to Lakota land and resources," identified SuperGreen Solutions, a small renewable energy group in Bismarck, North Dakota, working to increase energy efficiency and propose renewable energy systems using wind and solar power. The company has already assessed two of eight districts in the reservation to come up with specific proposals for implementing new systems for energy efficiency.

"Tens of millions of dollars can be saved by Standing Rock and millions of pounds of carbon prevented from entering the atmosphere," said Danny Paul Nelson, deputy director of the Lakota People's Law Project.

"Anything we can do to save these communities' resources for social welfare and basic living is a huge benefit from a social justice point of view, but the environmental impact is immense too. There is an opportunity here to set an example for the world -- not just how to protest the creation of fossil fuel infrastructure, but also in how to create renewable energy infrastructure as a response to being bullied by the oil industry, which is how we interpret what happened with [the movement against the pipeline]."

The Lakota People's Law Project is pushing for a petition to implement what's known as a Renewable Portfolio Standard in North and South Dakota, which would mandate a shift in each state to 50 percent renewable energy by 2030. The group is also advocating for other legislation that facilitates the shift toward renewable energy, like the solar access law that would permit residents to install solar energy infrastructure without the burden of regulations preventing them from doing so.

"North and South Dakota have nothing right now in place to facilitate the shift to renewable energy infrastructure. These states are heavily reliant on fossil fuels, even though these other options exist," says Nelson. He noted that Standing Rock can't act in isolation, and statewide legislation would help make Standing Rock's transition easier, as well as elevate awareness of renewable energy throughout North and South Dakota.

"Coal and oil reign supreme in the Dakotas. They have so much power no one even questions them, and people barely even know what solar is. Rather than it being a battle, there is a vacuum of understanding and interest in green energy. Our interest is in stoking vigorous engagement, with Standing Rock providing leadership in making that happen," he said.

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